The young woman charged in connection with the abduction of Victoria Stafford will now also face a first-degree murder charge.
Terri-Lynne McClintic was arrested May 19 in Woodstock, Ont., and later appeared in court to face charges of abducting the eight-year-old schoolgirl, as well as assisting Michael Thomas C. S. Rafferty, 28, to escape the area and being an accessory to murder after the fact.
On Thursday, when McClintic and Rafferty made court appearances in Woodstock via video link, the charges against her were upgraded.
McClintic, 18, now faces charges of first-degree murder and unlawful confinement.
Rafferty faces the same charges. Both have been remanded in custody.
"It's not unusual for the nature of charges to change over time as the investigation continues. So I'm not surprised by that," said Jeanine E. LeRoy, McClintic's defence lawyer.
'Some sort of deal,' suggests Rafferty's lawyer
Also on Thursday, LeRoy said the cases have been severed and McClintic and Rafferty will be tried separately.
But Hal Mattson, Rafferty's lawyer, called the decision to try them separately "unusual."
Mattson speculated the attorney general's office may have made "some sort of deal" with McClintic.
Hinting that the prosecutors are trying to avoid the type of backlash that came after the deal with Karla Homolka was made public, Mattson said, "They have — or might be — negotiating a deal with the other side."
"I mean, they [prosecutors] may be trying to avoid what in another case that is a little more famous — or was more famous — where there was a lot of criticism of the attorney general's office. And maybe that's why they've got two separate prosecutors. But that's just speculation," Mattson told reporters gathered outside the courthouse in Woodstock.
Provincial police continue their search for the remains of Victoria, who disappeared just after leaving school on the afternoon of April 8.
"The investigative team is working hard and is utilizing all available resources to help locate the body of Victoria Stafford," said OPP Det.-Insp. William Renton in a news release.
Search teams have concentrated on rural areas near the city of Guelph, about 45 minutes from Woodstock. They are also searching a landfill site near Salford as well as the Highway 401 corridor between Woodstock and Guelph.