Canada

Tori Stafford autopsy unable to determine sex assault

WARNING: This story contains disturbing details. The body of Ontario schoolgirl Victoria (Tori) Stafford was too decomposed to collect evidence of sexual interference, the murder trial of Michael Rafferty was told today.

WARNING: This story contains disturbing details

The body of Victoria (Tori) Stafford, seen with her brother Daryn, was found in a field near Mount Forest, Ont., more than three months after she disappeared. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

The body of Ontario schoolgirl Victoria (Tori) Stafford was too decomposed to collect evidence of sexual interference, the murder trial of Michael Rafferty was told today.

Rafferty, 31, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and abduction in the death of the girl, who disappeared near her elementary school in Woodstock on April 8, 2009. Her body was discovered more than three months later.

No evidence of sexual interference was found or was expected to be found, according to an agreed statement of facts read out by the Crown on Tuesday during the testimony of Dr. Michael Pollanen in London.

Pollanen, chief forensic pathologist for Ontario, conducted an autopsy on July 20, 2009, one day after Tori's body was discovered in a rural area 100 kilometres north of her home.

He says Tori was found with only a T-shirt and there was no evidence of clothing on the lower portion of her body. A pair of butterfly earrings and bottle caps were also found with her body.

Tori's teacher testified at the beginning of the trial that the schoolgirl ran back into her classroom to retrieve butterfly earrings before heading home on April 8, 2009.

Pathology evidence graphic

As the court was shown some of the autopsy photographs, a number of people in the public gallery left the courtroom. Tori's mother, Tara McDonald, wept. Her father, Rodney Stafford, left the courtroom earlier Tuesday.

Justice Thomas Heeney had earlier warned the jury about the pathology evidence, saying it would be graphic and that jurors could ask for a break in proceedings if they need it.  

Michael Rafferty has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and abduction. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

"I can tell you this will be the worst that you will see during the course of this case," he said. "You need to steel yourself, you need to be cold, analytical and critical."

The Crown previously said that Tori died after being hit repeatedly in the head with a hammer. Her body also showed signs that she had been kicked or stomped on.

The autopsy revealed numerous rib fractures, Pollanen said, suggesting strong force had been applied to the chest, possibly by kicking or stomping. Pollanen said an examination of lung tissue showed evidence of liver damage, which must have occurred while Tori was still alive and not from the rock that had later been piled on her torso.

The liver damage and internal bleeding likely contributed to Tori’s death, said Pollanen, but the hammer blows to the head she received, at least four, with penetration of the skull, were not survivable.

Pollanen said it was possible, however, that liver damage might have occurred after the hammer blows while Tori was still alive.

Determining sexual assault was beyond the scope of medical evidence, Pollanen said, because of the body’s decomposition.

Terri-Lynne McClintic, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder two years ago and is serving life in prison, testified last month that it was she who inflicted the fatal hammer blows, contradicting her previous statements to police that Rafferty did so.

Body site rarely used in winter

Earlier Tuesday, the jury heard from Ervin Bauman, owner of the land where Tori's body was discovered at the end of a laneway.

Bauman told the court the area is almost two kilometres from his home and is rarely used during the winter, although his children occasionally use the laneway when the weather is nice.

Bauman said the area was wet, slushy and covered with snow around the time Tori disappeared.

The Crown contends Tori was lured to Rafferty's car by McClintic shortly after she left Oliver Stephens Public School in Woodstock. The pair then drove the girl first to Guelph, Ont., and later to a rural area north of the city where she was allegedly raped and killed.

Rafferty was seated Tuesday in the prisoner's box wearing a purple shirt — Tori's favourite colour. His clothing angered a number of the girl's family members, who have attended the trial since it began in early March.

Rafferty glanced occasionally at the screen in front of him as the autopsy photographs were presented but generally avoided looking at it.

Victoria (Tori) Stafford's body was found in a rural area near Mount Forest, Ont., three months after she went missing.

On Monday, jurors were taken to a field near Mount Forest, a small community 65 kilometres northwest of Guelph, where the girl's body was discovered by an Ontario Provincial Police investigator on July 19, 2009.

Det. Staff Sgt. Jim Smyth testified last week that he located the site after recognizing landmarks described by McClintic, who had previously confessed her crime to the behavioural specialist in May 2009 and was then helping investigators locate the body.

Smyth told the court how he found her remains at the base of an evergreen tree. Her body, which was partially clothed, was inside two garbage bags and had been partially covered by a number of rocks.

Rafferty's trial, which is expected to last for several more weeks, continues on Wednesday with cross-examination by the defence.

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