The brutality of an eight-year-old girl’s death was chronicled in frightful detail Tuesday as the pathologist who performed the autopsy walked a jury through what he described as “the jigsaw puzzle of forensic analysis.”
In the witness box at the murder trial of Michael Rafferty was Michael Pollanen, Ontario’s chief forensic pathologist, who did the postmortem on Victoria (Tori) Stafford in July 2009, one day after her decomposed remains were located in woods adjoining a farmer’s field north of Guelph.
In a friendly, easy-to-understand manner that belied the ghastly nature of what he was describing, Dr. Pollanen told co-prosecutor Michael Carnegie that Tori was struck at least four times by what he believes was a claw hammer – once with the flat end and three times with the V-shaped claw.
Using a hammer and a model of Tori’s skull made of dental stone – the kind used to fashion dental moulds – Dr. Pollanen illustrated how the claw matched incisions in her head.
Sixteen of her 24 ribs were fractured too, and her liver was badly lacerated – testament to an attack that he said involved “extensively distributed trauma across the entire torso.”
The prosecution thesis is that after being raped by Mr. Rafferty, but before her head and face were smashed with the hammer, Tori was repeatedly kicked and stomped.
But whether she was sexually assaulted is undetermined, Dr. Pollanen told the jury, because her body was so badly decomposed when it was discovered three months after she was kidnapped outside her Woodstock school.
She was identified by dental records.
A publication ban was placed on a number of the gruesome court exhibits that went on display, and several spectators, including Tori’s father, Rodney, left the courtroom during Dr. Pollanen’s day-long presentation.
Mr. Rafferty, 31, who has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and abduction, seemed unmoved by any of what was being aired. He sat in the prisoner’s box with his eyes half closed through much of the day.
And in a move that caused enormous offence to Tori’s relatives and supporters in the packed courtroom, he was sporting a new purple shirt and a grey-and-purple tie.
Purple was Tori’s favourite colour and has become an emblem for her family.
Ahead of time, Judge Thomas Heeney warned the jurors the pictures they were going to view might be deeply unsettling and that “you will need to steel yourselves … it is not easy to sit through this.”
Dr. Pollanen, too, cautioned that “these photos, even for a pathologist, can be rather confronting.”
Tori’s body was discovered wrapped in garbage bags and concealed by thick brush and rocks in northern Wellington County.
The cause of death was “blunt force impact” on her skull, the trial was told.
She was clad only in a Hannah Montana T-shirt, Dr. Pollanen testified.
Also in the garbage bags were the butterfly earrings she was wearing when she was abducted, together with a piece of a hair barrette and two plastic bottle caps.
The latter items are key because the prosecution contends that after raping and beating the child to death, Mr. Rafferty washed himself with water from two plastic water bottles.
Also charged in Tori’s death was Mr. Rafferty’s former girlfriend, Terri-Lynne McClintic, who confessed to police and who was sentenced in April, 2010, to life imprisonment.
But between the time she confessed and this trial, where she spent six days in the witness box, Ms. McClintic, now 21, altered her account of events in one crucial detail.
Initially, she admitted being a party to almost everything that happened to Tori after the little girl was kidnapped on April 8, 2009, but said it was Mr. Rafferty who stomped and beat her to death.
Now, Ms. McClintic insists that it was she who swung the newly purchased hammer that inflicted the fatal blows.
The Superior Court jury, however, has been told by the prosecution that regardless of who wielded the murder weapon, Mr. Rafferty remains guilty.
Dr. Pollanen will return to the witness box Wednesday for cross-examination by Mr. Rafferty’s chief lawyer, Dirk Derstine.