Warning: Disturbing Content
By Raveena Aulakh/Torstar News Service
London, Ontario - When Tori Stafford’s body was found, it too badly decomposed to determine if there had been “sexual interference,” Ontario’s leading forensic pathologist told a jury Tuesday.
She was in two garbage bags, naked from the waist down and in a fetal position, said Dr. Michael Pollanen, chief of the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service who performed the autopsy on Tori’s body in July 2009.
The only piece of clothing she had on was a sleeveless hoodie with the words: “A girl can dream.”
Tori, 8, was killed three years ago on April 8, 2009 while walking home from school in Woodstock. Terri-Lynne McClintic and Michael Rafferty, then her boyfriend, were arrested a month later and charged with murder. Tori’s body was found on July 19, 2009; McClintic pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life. Rafferty’s trial began on March 5.
McClintic, in her testimony earlier in the trial, has admitted to luring and killing Tori but has maintained she did it at the behest of Rafferty, who allegedly raped the little girl in his car in a laneway near Mount Forest.
Pollanen, who took the witness stand just before noon, said he went to the site where Tori’s body was found. She was in two green garbage bags — one on the lower portion and the other on the upper portion of her body, the two bags coming together in the middle of the body.
The bags were stained by decomposing fluid, vegetation on the forest floor and there was maggot activity, he said. The upper bag had some punctures but the lower bag was more intact.
As Crown attorney Michael Carnegie showed photos of Tori’s remains at the site and at the coroner’s office in Toronto, Pollanen described them in detail to the jury.
He pointed out the skull had been fractured but there were no bullet holes or stab wounds. Once Tori’s Hannah Montana shirt was removed, Pollanen said he could see some skin surface but past the abdomen, decomposition was extensive.
“When I examined external genitals ... and that region of the body, there was near complete decompositional destruction,” he testified. “External genitals were lost.”
Tori’s skull and face, including cheekbones and nose, had numerous fractures.
Pollanen said they were from a claw-hammer; she was hit on the head at least four times, he said.
“A minimum of four,” he said. “And this flows from the fact that we have four unique sites (on the skull).” But he also told the jury there could have been more blows to the head but since there was no scalp, it was impossible to determine.
With the help of a Wavex hammer, the kind McClintic bought from Home Depot, Pollanen demonstrated the wounds and how they were consistent with its claw side.
During the autopsy, two butterfly earrings, two plastic bottle caps and a broken hair clip were also found.
He is expected to get in details about Tori’s head injuries after the lunch hour.
Tori’s family members have showed up in court every day of the trial, kept their emotions at bay and sometimes they have talked to reporters.
But Tuesday was a tough day.
As the first graphic photos were shown to the jury, Tori’s father Rodney Stafford left the courtroom. A distraught Tara McDonald, Tori`s mother, sat through the testimony as did her two grandmothers, her aunts and uncles. Many members of the family were wearing purple in some way: a shirt, a tie or ribbon.
Purple was Tori’s favourite colour, a fact that has come up again and again.
Rafferty, too, was wearing purple: a purple shirt, grey suit and striped purple tie.
Outside the courthouse, McDonald sobbed as she tightly hugged her mother.
Earlier, Justice Thomas Heeney warned jurors that the images they will see will be disturbing and asked them to keep an open mind. “This will be the worst you will see during the course of this case,” said Heeney. “Evidence cannot but help pull at heartstrings … we are, after all, dealing with the death of a little girl. But it is your duty to decide the case without any prejudice.”
Heeney asked the jury not to get emotional on Tuesday. “Because emotions distort judgment, emotion distorts reason,” he said grimly.
Before Pollanen’s testimony, Ervin Bauman, the farmer on whose property Tori’s body was found, took the stand. He said he was surprised to see tracks on the laneway in early April 2009 because no one uses it when it is wet.
He also testified he adds to the pile of rocks every spring. In 2009, he added rocks close to a cluster of trees, where Tori’s body was later discovered.
On Monday, the 12 jurors visited Mount Forest, where Tori’s body was found in a secluded laneway in the middle of rolling farmlands. They spent about 25 minutes at the site looking at the many points important in this narrative. The spot where Rafferty allegedly parked his car and raped Tori, the spot where McClintic paced near a field while Tori screamed in agony. And the spot, under a large evergreen tree, where Tori’s body was left in a garbage bag and covered with rocks.