Jurors in Rafferty trial visit scene where remains found
LONDON, Ont. - Standing in the spot where Victoria Stafford was allegedly raped and killed, there is little except trees and open fields as far as the eye can see -- a few silos in the distance and the closest house well out of earshot.
WARNING: Graphic details from this court case may disturb some readers.
Jurors deciding the case of a man accused of killing the eight-year-old girl saw for themselves Monday the isolation of where Tori's battered body would be left buried for months under rocks beneath an evergreen tree 132 kilometres from her home.
What jurors saw was not evidence, but it was hoped the visit would give them a better understanding of the evidence, Ontario Superior Court Justice Thomas Heeney told them last week.
Yellow markers from letters A to H were placed at various points around the site, from the entrance of the laneway to the top about 300 metres away where Tori's remains were found.
The Grade 3 student was abducted outside her school in Woodstock, Ont., on April 8, 2009, and driven north to the rural area just southeast of Mount Forest, Ont.
Terri-Lynne McClintic, 21, who is serving a life sentence after pleading guilty to first-degree murder, has admitted luring Tori with the promise of seeing a dog.
McClintic says she did so at the urging of then-boyfriend Michael Rafferty, who she says raped the girl in the secluded spot.
McClintic had previously told police Rafferty then killed Tori with a hammer, but now says it was her.
Raffety, 31, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and kidnapping.
Det. Staff Sgt. Jim Smyth testified Friday about the grim discovery he made July 19, 2009. By then the foliage was full and Tori's remains weren't visible at the base of the evergreen tree.
Guided only by a description and sketch of the area from McClintic and the smell of decomposition, Smyth pushed back several low-hanging branches, no more than a few inches off the ground, he testified.
He saw bits of a garbage bag sticking out from under a pile of rocks at the base of the tree, and because the bag was soft to the touch, he knew it didn't contain more rocks, he said.
Police had to cut some of the branches so the area could be properly photographed, Smyth testified.
But for the tree branches and a light covering of snow on the ground that April day, jurors were able to see the scene more or less as it was when Tori died.
Standing near the spot, a building can barely be made out in the distance to the north; big open fields are to the east and south; a mass of evergreens to the west. Beyond the trees, down the laneway and across the road is a house, but no one could be seen or likely heard from where Tori was found.
The jury's viewing was private, with only court staff, the judge, lawyers and police present. They left after spending about 25 minutes, then members of the media were allowed to look around for half an hour.
Since the scene is about 2 1/2 hours away from the courthouse in London, Ont., where Rafferty's trial is being held, court did not sit Monday but will resume with testimony Tuesday.