Judge calls Tori Stafford killer a 'monster' at sentencing

WARNING: This story contains disturbing details. Michael Rafferty has been sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 25 years, despite his continued claim that he did not commit crimes against Victoria (Tori) Stafford of Woodstock, Ont.

WARNING: This story contains disturbing details

Rafferty sentenced

11 years ago
Duration 2:48
Victoria (Tori) Stafford's family give their victim impact statements as Michael Rafferty is sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 25 years

Michael Rafferty has been sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 25 years, despite his continued claim that he did not commit crimes against Victoria (Tori) Stafford.

At a sentencing hearing held at the courthouse in London, Ont., Tuesday, Rafferty was given the opportunity to speak and he said, "I firmly stand behind not guilty."

The 31-year-old, who did not testify at his trial, admitted he played a role in the disappearance of Tori, who was last seen alive outside her elementary school in Woodstock, Ont., on April 8, 2009, but said he's not guilty of murder, kidnapping, or sexual assault, even though a jury found him guilty on all of those charges on Friday. He offered to meet with Tori's mother, Tara McDonald, to fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle so she would know the whole story.

But outside the courthouse, McDonald told reporters she wasn't interested in the offer.

In sentencing Rafferty, Justice Thomas Heeney said there is no doubt the jury got it right.

"But most tragically of all, you have snuffed out the life of a beautiful, talented, vivacious little girl.… And for what? So that you could gratify your twisted and deviant desire to have sex with a child. Only a monster could commit an act of such pure evil. You sir are a monster," the judge said.

Rafferty also received 10 years each for kidnapping and sexual assault causing bodily harm, to be served concurrently with the sentence for first-degree murder.

Heeney also prohibited him from owning weapons, and said his name will be added to the national sex offender registry and he must provide a DNA sample.

The courtroom was packed with family members and reporters, and even nine members of the jury returned to see Rafferty be sent to prison for life.

A number of Tori's relatives spoke at the hearing about the loss they felt after the 2009 slaying of the Grade 3 student.

Her mother said she has been through a lifetime of pain in the past three years. She said her life, and the lives of her family, were destroyed the day Tori disappeared.

Victoria (Tori) Stafford was abducted while walking home from her elementary school in Woodstock, Ont., on April 8, 2009. (Canadian Press)

"But Victoria wouldn't want us to be miserable forever, so for her we will pick up the pieces and put together our lives as best as we can," McDonald said. "No amount of time or tears will ever bring her back to me."

McDonald said her 14-year-old son, Daryn, who usually walked his younger sister home from school, still feels guilty about not doing so on April 8, 2009, the day Tori went missing after leaving Oliver Stephens Public School. Her remains were found more than three months later in Mount Forest, 100 kilometres north of Woodstock.

McDonald also said she still has to deal with whispers from people who think she had something to do with her daughter's disappearance.

She said she will never get a chance to see Tori at her graduation, prom or wedding. It has all been replaced by anniversaries — the day she went missing, the day she was found.

Other family members who spoke at Rafferty's sentencing hearing included two of Tori's aunts, an uncle and two grandmothers. 

Tara McDonald, mother of Victoria (Tori) Stafford, reads her victim impact statement to the media following the sentencing hearing for Michael Rafferty. (Geoff Robins/Canadian Press )

Rodney Stafford, Tori's father, told the hearing there had been a great impact, especially on younger members of the family, after the Grade 3 student was abducted.

He told the hearing there are no words to express his feelings and that he often wants to explode with rage. Cheers could be heard in the courthouse when he referred to the "piece of shit" who stole Tori.

Tears from killer

When a statement written by Tori's brother Daryn was read out by Crown attorney Stephanie Venne, Rafferty appeared to get emotional and began to cry, occasionally wiping tears from his eyes.

Daryn explained that he and Tori were very close, they laughed and cried together, and that part of his heart had been "ripped out."

"Now I feel alone, like the world is playing a sick trick on me," he wrote. "But it's not, this is my reality. No more fun times, just old memories. No more 'I love yous,' just an empty spot in my heart."

Daryn said he has had to go to counselling. He wrote that he has low self-esteem and anxiety. He cannot walk alone without looking behind him, cannot sleep because of nightmares and cannot be by himself.

He described the last time he saw Tori, on the day she disappeared, and said everything seemed normal.

"Now I am lost without her, trying to move on without my baby sister and best friend," he wrote.

Rodney Stafford, father of Victoria (Tori) Stafford, says there are no words to express his feelings and that he often wants to explode with rage. (Geoff Robins/Canadian Press)

Throughout Rafferty's trial, which began March 5 and ended with a guilty verdict Friday evening, people jockeyed to get a seat in the courtroom, and Tuesday morning was no different. People lined up early to try to get a seat inside the courtroom or in the overflow room.

Rafferty was found guilty on all three charges he faced following the first full day of deliberations: first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and kidnapping.

Terri-Lynne McClintic, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder two years ago, testified in March that she lured Tori to Rafferty’s car on his orders. The pair then took the girl first to Guelph and later to Mount Forest.

McClintic was one of more than a dozen women Rafferty dated in the spring of 2009, several at the same time.

McClintic told jurors Rafferty repeatedly raped the girl before, overcome with rage, she bludgeoned the young girl to death with a hammer. The 21-year-old had previously said Rafferty killed Tori.

Tori's partially clothed remains were found more than three months later in a field outside of Mount Forest, inside garbage bags and covered with several large stones.

Defence lawyer Dirk Derstine told CBC News Tuesday that many factors will determine whether the convicted killer will appeal, but he noted that appeals are a "multi-stage" process that can unfold over a long time.

"He's been convicted of all of the offences before the court," Derstine said after the sentencing. "There's no downside to it — if legal aid agrees to fund his appeal, he may very well appeal."

Derstine said there may be grounds for appeal related to the charge to the jury or the location of the trial.

"But by and large, these are thing that will be addressed by Mr. Rafferty's appellate counsel," Derstine said.

The defence lawyer added that Rafferty, who did not testify during the trial, "very much wanted to say his piece at this particular time."

"There's nothing much else that I can say about that, it's certainly his right and that's certainly part of the process — as much a part of the process as the jury."

Rafferty downloaded child porn

Throughout the trial, jurors were unaware that Rafferty had searched for and downloaded child pornography to his computer, after Heeney ruled the evidence inadmissible because police obtained the information without a proper warrant.

They were also unaware he had downloaded a movie, Gardens of the Night, which details the abduction and sexual abuse of an eight-year-old girl.

Daryn Stafford, brother of Victoria (Tori) Stafford, says he feels alone after his sister's death. (Geoff Robins/Canadian Press )

Heeney briefly touched on the excluded evidence during his sentencing comments, noting that there had been a "negative" reaction after its release.

He said the criticism demonstrates a "fundamental misunderstanding" of the basic concepts of Canadian law, saying that character evidence can often unduly influence a jury and has led to wrongful convictions.

"Instead, the jury in this case convicted the accused solely on the basis of solid, admissible and overwhelming evidence that was directly relevant to the heinous deeds committed by Rafferty and his partner in evil on April 8, 2009."

It was his conduct, not his character that led to the verdict, Heeney said.

Jurors began their deliberation Thursday and returned a verdict a little more than 24 hours later. Over the course of the lengthy and often emotional trial, the 12-member jury heard from 62 witnesses and viewed almost 200 exhibits.

With files from The Canadian Press