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Jurors silently visit site where Tori's body found

OPP officers are seen at a small creek near the site where Tori Stafford's body was found near Mount Forest, Ont. Monday, April 2/2012. The jury in the Michael Rafferty trial were given a tour of the site after which the media were allowed to have access.

Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Warning: This story contains graphic details.

Three years ago, a dusting of snow still covered the pleasant, rolling farmland where eight-year-old Tori Stafford's body lay carefully concealed, which in part explains why it was so hard to locate for so many weeks.

On Monday, there were blue skies and a bright sun as the jurors in the trial of the man accused of killing and raping Tori silently trudged 300 metres up a grassy pathway to the spot where the body was finally discovered in July, 2009.

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But the weather and the bucolic surroundings did nothing to lighten the grim mood as the jurors saw first-hand the wooded terrain in which Michael Rafferty and his co-accused, convicted murderer Terri-Lynne McClintic, are alleged to have abused Tori and beaten her to death with a hammer.

The jurors were bused to the crime scene from London, where the Superior Court trial has entered its fifth week, and before their trip, Judge Thomas Heeney reminded them that it was, in effect, a temporary extension of the courtroom.

So while they could take notes and were provided with guide books, and helpful yellow markers lined the trail up which they hiked, they were specifically asked not to talk during the tour, even on the bus.

The nine-woman, three-man jury were not the only visitors.

Mr. Rafferty was brought along, driven from his London jail cell in a heavy-duty police Suburban with tinted windows. But he did not leave the vehicle, which parked at the entrance to the pathway with marked police cruisers up and down the road.

The jury arrived at noon and stayed about 40 minutes before being driven back to London, where the trial resumes on Tuesday.

Tori's remains were found a few kilometres southeast of Mount Forest, in a thick patch of woodland and brush on the edge of a farmer's field adjoining Concession Road 6, south of Highway 89.

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She was beaten to death and her body concealed with garbage bags and heavy rocks.

Mr. Rafferty, 31, has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and kidnapping.

Three specially sworn court officers accompanied the jurors on their expedition. Then, flanked by police, the media were permitted to take a walk-through: up the pathway, across a culvert, past a big pile of rocks and then up to the spot where Mr. Rafferty allegedly parked his Honda Civic before raping and killing the little girl.

Although just a short walk from Concession Road 6, and reached by a gravel path in good repair, it's a strikingly well-concealed location, invisible from any of the farm houses that dot the landscape, and it seemed hard to believe the two accused could have stumbled across it by accident.

Pine, fir, oak and alder trees surround the clearing where Tori died, and although some of the tall grass has been cut back, it remains thick.

The yellow markers indicated points of significance in the narrative of Ms. McClintic when she confessed to murder six weeks after Tori's death in April, 2009: the spot beneath a big fir tree where she was thrown; the large pile of rocks, a dozen of which were used to hide the body; the nearby soy bean field where Ms. McClintic described pacing back and forth as Mr. Rafferty allegedly raped Tori in the car, and from where she said she could hear the child screaming for help.

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None of what the jury saw is evidence, Judge Heeney told the jurors before their visit. Instead, he said, it should be seen as a guide.

When the trial resumes on Tuesday, the prosecution is expected to call pathologist Michael Pollanen as its next witness.

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About the Author

At The Globe and Mail since 1982, in assorted manifestations, chiefly crime reporter, foreign correspondent and member of the Editorial Board, Tim is now retired. More

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