Man acquitted of girl in roof cavity death

Genevieve Gannon

A man who hid a two-year-old girl's beaten body in the roof of her Victorian home has walked free after a jury cleared him of murdering the toddler.

John Clifford Torney, 32, dodged the waiting media pack and refused to comment as he emerged from the Mildura police station on Thursday afternoon, gripping a plastic bag of clothes.

A Victorian Supreme Court jury found Mr Torney not guilty of causing the death of Nikki Francis Coslovich on August 25 last year.

He was acquitted of murder and manslaughter.

Nikki's body was discovered in the roof cavity of the Mildura house after her mother Peta-Ann Francis reported her missing to police.

The toddler had injuries consistent with a high-speed vehicle accident or a fall from a great height, Mr Torney's trial heard.

She died as a result of repeated blows to her abdomen and chest.

Her liver was split in several places and she had lost between a quarter and a third of her total blood volume.

Justice Elizabeth Hollingworth suppressed information about Mr Torney that can now be revealed, including suggestions of domestic abuse towards a previous girlfriend and that he had undergone anger management treatment.

The defence argued Ms Francis had killed her own daughter and Mr Torney hid the body.

Ms Francis has never been charged over the death.

A pathologist put Nikki's time of death between 10am and 11am on August 25.

Nikki was at home with Mr Torney while Ms Francis was in and out performing chores, which included visiting a pawnbrokers, Woolworths and her marijuana dealer's house.

Barrister Julie Condon, for Mr Torney, argued she was at the house for much of the time frame during which Nikki was said to have been killed.

Mr Torney and Ms Francis had been seeing each other for about five months when Nikki died, and the jury heard he had had a positive effect on Ms Francis' life.

She told police he had treated her "like an angel" and said their relationship was "awesome."

Prosecutors said the severe blows had to have come from someone strong and pointed to evidence of a chipped bone in Ms Francis' right wrist.

Mr Torney told police in his record of interview that Ms Francis had confessed to him that she had killed her daughter and he helped her hide the body.

There was an audible sigh in the packed courtroom when the verdict was read out on Thursday.

Nikki's father Nicholas Coslovich told reporters outside court he was still trying to process the verdict.

"I'm still thinking ... still processing," he said.