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Michael Rafferty Trial Autopsy Photos: Judge Warns Jurors To 'Steel Yourselves' As Coroner Testifies

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TORI STAFFORD MICHAEL RAFFERTY TRIAL
Michael Rafferty is transported from the courthouse in the back of police cruiser in London, Ontario, Wednesday, March, 14, 2012. Rafferty is facing charges in the death of Victoria (Tori) Stafford. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley | CP

LONDON, Ont. - By the time Victoria Stafford's remains were found — clad only in butterfly earrings and her Hannah Montana T-shirt with the words "a girl can dream" — they were so badly decomposed that it was impossible to tell if she was sexually assaulted, court heard Tuesday.

WARNING: Graphic details from this court case may disturb some readers.

What is clear is that the eight-year-old girl died from at least four hammer blows to her head, and 16 of her ribs were broken or fractured, Ontario's chief forensic pathologist testified.

The Crown alleges Michael Rafferty, 31, raped Tori before killing her, but Dr. Michael Pollanen said that cannot be determined through the pathology.

Tori's remains were so decomposed by the time of the autopsy on July 20, 2009 — one day after a police officer acting on a hunch found them — much of the physical structures in that region of the body had deteriorated completely, he said.

Her body, which lay in the fetal position, was wrapped in garbage bags and placed beneath an evergreen tree, court heard. Large rocks from a nearby pile were put on top, forming a "sort of clandestine grave," Pollanen said.

By the time she was found 103 days after she went missing, Tori's remains were unrecognizable, and had to be identified through dental records.

A broken piece of a hair clip and the earrings court has heard Tori borrowed from her mom were in the garbage bags with her.

The Grade 3 student from Woodstock, Ont., was found in an isolated nook of a farmer's field far from home and out of earshot from the nearest house months after she went missing on April 8, 2009.

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

Tori's mother Tara McDonald wept silently while autopsy photographs were shown and Tori's father Rodney Stafford left the courtroom.

Before the photos were displayed, 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 he 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."

Pollanen, who did the autopsy, 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."

When her remains were transported to the coroner's office in Toronto, 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."

The remains were in a moderately advanced stage of decomposition, to the point where some parts had already become skeletonized, he testified.

Pollanen said Tori was hit with such force that the fractures radiated to her face, 16 of her ribs were broken or fractured, some in several places, and even her liver was damaged while still alive.

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.

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