Stafford's dad leaves courtroom as autopsy photos shown
Published Tuesday, April 3, 2012 5:06PM EDT
LONDON, Ont. - Victoria Stafford's father rushed from the courtroom Tuesday as images were shown of the eight-year-old's barely recognizable remains, clothed only in a hooded Hannah Montana T-shirt emblazoned with sparkles and the words "a girl can dream."
WARNING: Graphic details from this court case may disturb some readers.
The slide show detailing the girl's autopsy was shown in court as part of testimony at the trial of Michael Rafferty.
Tori's mother, Tara McDonald, cried while the photos were on courtroom screens while her father, Rodney Stafford, left the room.
Beforehand, Ontario Superior Court Justice Thomas Heeney told jurors to brace themselves, saying what they were about to see "cannot help but tug at your heartstrings," but said they had to decide the case without emotion.
"We are, after all, dealing with the death of a little girl," Heeney said.
"You've been warned about graphic images being shown before and they've no doubt been disturbing, but I can tell you that this will be the worst that you will see during the course of this case, so you really need to steel yourselves."
Dr. Michael Pollanen, Ontario's chief forensic pathologist who performed the post-mortem on Tori, also warned jurors, saying such images are "confronting" even for pathologists.
"The body is going to be in a state of decomposition," Pollanen said. "So, while you will recognize some of the body you might not recognize all of it."
By the time Tori's remains were found by a police officer more than three months after she disappeared, they had deteriorated to the point where no evidence of sexual assault could be found, court heard.
Rafferty, 31, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and kidnapping.
Tori was abducted outside her Woodstock, Ont., elementary school on April 8, 2009. She was allegedly sexually assaulted and killed in a rural area more than 100 kilometres north. Cause of death was multiple blows to the head with a hammer, court has heard.
Tori's remains had been wrapped in garbage bags and buried under a pile of rocks, forming "a sort of clandestine grave," Pollanen said. She was lying in the fetal position on her right side with rocks as heavy as 50 kilograms on top of her, court heard.
When her remains were transported to the coroner's office in Toronto the next day for an autopsy, Pollanen said it was obvious they were dealing with a child.
"The teeth are not fully developed and the bones are not quite fully developed at that point, and obviously she's quite small," Pollanen testified.
The remains were in a moderately advanced stage of decomposition, to the point where some parts had already become skeletonized, he testified.
In the garbage bags, he also found two plastic bottle caps, a piece of a hair clip and two butterfly earrings. The items, as well as Tori's hooded T-shirt, were shown in court.
The shirt -- with small crystals embedded in the collar, a picture of the character Hannah Montana on the front with sparkles and words written in script -- was the only item of clothing Tori had on, Pollanen testified.
In court, Rafferty wore a purple shirt and purple striped tie -- the same shade of deep purple as the ribbons and clothing Tori's family has taken to wearing in her memory because it was her favourite colour.
Rafferty's ex-girlfriend Terri-Lynne McClintic, 21, is serving a life sentence after pleading guilty two years ago to first-degree murder in Tori's death.