Tori Stafford murder trial juror seeks compensation, says grisly evidence traumatized her

A juror in the murder trial for eight-year-old Tori Stafford trial is appealing for compensation for trauma she says she suffered performing her civic duty.

'As far as my mind was concerned, I was at the crime scene,' says juror diagnosed with vicarious PTSD

A juror in the murder trial for eight-year-old Tori Stafford trial juror is appealing for compensation for trauma she says she suffered performing her civic duty. (CBC)

The trial was over and she needed to forget.

So she packed her bags and whisked her kids away on a week-long trip to Niagara Falls – a trip on which she says she realized something inside her was terribly wrong.

"I got angry in the hotel room with them," she said of her kids. "I had to put them in a separate room. I didn't know what was happening to me."

Four years ago, she was one of twelve jurors in the trial of Michael Rafferty, the man convicted in the kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of Tori Stafford. She can't be identified because of a publication ban on the names of the jurors in the case.

During the trial, which lasted over two months, jurors heard graphic testimony and were brought to the scene where Stafford's body was left under a pile of rocks.

'I was reliving the trial'

It's a scene this juror says she simply couldn't unsee, despite her getaway and two weeks off work.

"My short-term memory was gone. I was angry. I was reliving the trial, but I was reliving it in the place where I was standing there at the crime scene, watching it happen over and over and over again. I couldn't get rid of the videos in my head playing."

Particularly disturbing was the testimony of Rafferty's former girlfriend. Terri-Lynne McClintic described in brutal detail how the couple lured the eight-year-old Woodstock, Ont., girl into a car on her walk home from school, with Rafferty masturbating and raping the young girl, who was then covered with a bag and killed with repeated blows of a hammer.

The judge had ordered counselling but the juror says it wasn't enough to deal with the the trauma she says she endured carrying out her civic duty. After three or four sessions that she says included meditation and deep breathing, she stopped going. She didn't know what she needed but that wasn't it, she says.

But things only got worse.

"It was like walking on a treadmill in a glass bubble in the fog and I couldn't get out."

With the help of personal injury lawyer Barbara Legate, she says was eventually able to get into a trauma therapy program, received a diagnosis for a condition called vicarious post-traumatic stress disorder, and has been seeing a psychiatrist ever since.

Can a juror be a victim?

In an effort to cover her medical costs and wages lost as a result of the time she had to be off work, she applied to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. The argument: the juror was in fact a victim.

Legate argues the juror in the Rafferty trial fits an expanded definition of what it means to be a victim, her mental suffering an indirect consequence of the crime.

"It's a civic duty … We ask people to sit through weeks and weeks and sometimes months and months of trials. That's a lot to ask of our fellow citizens right then and there," Legate says.

"To then ask them at the end of the trial to sort out the mental suffering that they have as a consequence of doing their duty" without adequate support, she says, is a problem.

The board disagreed.

In 2014, it dismissed her application through the Compensation for Victims of Crime Act, saying she didn't meet their criteria for a "nervous shock claim," arguing she was too far from the crime in relation, location and time to qualify.

If not in body, at the crime scene in mind

Additionally, it argued, it was hearing the evidence that caused the juror emotional distress, not Rafferty's crime itself. The board also found it was "absurd to suggest that a jury member is a victim of a crime."

On Tuesday, Ontario's Attorney General Yasir Naqvi told CBC News he's is looking into improving supports for jurors traumatized by gruesome evidence in trials. (CBC)

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice's Divisional Court upheld that decision. Legate ​will challeng​e the ruling before the Ontario Court of Appeal on Nov. 8.

If successful, it will be a landmark case. But Legate says for anyone worried a win might open the floodgates for those who might exploit the system with phony claims of damage, two safeguards will prevent that: a diagnosis and that the evidence be graphic enough that a person with "ordinary fortitude" might be adversely affected. 

Ontario doesn't offer any assistance unless ordered by a judge. But that may be changing.

On Tuesday, Ontario's Attorney General Yasir Naqvi told CBC News he is looking into improving supports for jurors traumatized by gruesome evidence in trials.

"We need to recognize and acknowledge the fact that jurors do perform a very important duty," Naqvi said.

"I want to engage in those conversations with the judiciary and our other justice system partners to determine what could be a better way of providing those services to jurors and based on that, determine the tools," the attorney general said.

Former Ontario Chief Justice Patrick LeSage — who presided over the Paul Bernardo murder trial — is among those urging the province to provide jurors with better access to counselling.​

The juror in the Rafferty trial hopes the Ontario Court of Appeal will agree and grant her the damages she says were the direct result of his crime.

"As far as my mind was concerned, I was at the crime scene."

With files from Michelle Cheung, Mike Crawley