Michael Rafferty found guilty of Tori Stafford murder
WARNING: This story contains disturbing details
Michael Rafferty has been found guilty of first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and kidnapping in the death of Victoria (Tori) Stafford, the eight-year-old girl who disappeared outside her Woodstock, Ont., school three years ago.
Tori's family cried as the three-man, nine-woman jury delivered their verdict Friday night at a London, Ont., courthouse.
Rafferty, 31, closed his eyes but displayed little emotion as jurors delivered a verdict that Superior Court Judge Thomas Heeney said was "just and amply supported by the evidence."
Rafferty has been remanded to custody until a May 15 sentencing hearing. Tori's family members will have an opportunity to present victim impact statements at the hearing.
A conviction for first-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison with no chance of applying for parole for 25 years.
The jury heard from 62 witnesses and saw almost 200 exhibits since Rafferty's trial began on March 5.
Deliberations began Thursday evening, and the jury returned to the courtroom several times Friday to receive further instruction from the judge, as they posed two questions about sexual assault.
"You have represented the people of Canada in a most important civic duty," Justice Heeney said, after thanking the jurors for their service.
Tori disappeared outside her elementary school in Woodstock, Ont., on April 8, 2009. Her body was found more than three months later.
'Justice' for Tori, father says
Immediately after the verdict was read, Tori's family "erupted into tears and cheers," CBC reporter Ioanna Roumeliotis said from the courthouse.
Tori's mother, Tara McDonald, left the courthouse without speaking to the media.
The girl's father, Rodney Stafford, said he was happy and excited, but at the same time, he said there was a sense of loss because his daughter was not coming home.
"But we got it, we got the justice," he said.
Stafford said he thought the jurors would be "very amazed" with their decision once they learned of the information they didn't hear in open court.
"It makes me feel like I can breathe again," said Tori's grandmother, Doreen Graichen.
Crown lawyer Kevin Gowdey said it was a day of mixed emotion after a "long and difficult" trial.
"The trial is finally over, so that's a good thing, but the verdict means that the jury has found that Michael Rafferty did kidnap, sexually assault and murder Victoria Stafford, and our thoughts are with Victoria's family," Gowdey said.
Defence lawyer Dirk Derstine told reporters after the guilty verdict he didn't think anybody in the courtroom knew what the verdict would be.
"I think the jury thought long and hard about various different aspects about this," Derstine said. "If they had just believed some aspects of the testimony right off the bat, they would have convicted within minutes."
When asked whether Rafferty would appeal, Derstine said "that's Mr. Rafferty's decision, and that will be brought to him in due course."
Rafferty pleaded not guilty
Rafferty had pleaded not guilty to all three charges.
Tori disappeared shortly after leaving Oliver Stephens Public School in Woodstock. Her partially clothed remains were found more than three months later in a field outside Mount Forest, 100 kilometres north of her home.
Michael Rafferty now faces a mandatory life sentence. Do you agree with the verdict?
Much of Rafferty's trial was taken up by the Crown's case, which included 61 witnesses over the course of eight weeks. The defence, on the other hand, spent just one day introducing evidence.
The prosecution's case centred on Terri-Lynne McClintic, who provided chilling testimony over the course of two weeks in March about the last moments of Tori's life. McClintic pleaded guilty two years ago to first-degree murder in Tori's death.
The 21-year-old told jurors she lured Tori to Rafferty's car after he asked her to abduct a little girl. The pair then drove the Grade 3 student first to Guelph, where McClintic bought a hammer and garbage bags, and then to Mount Forest.
McClintic testified she watched Rafferty repeatedly rape Tori before she became overcome with rage, and beat the girl to death with a hammer.
Defence lawyer Derstine attacked McClintic's credibility during cross-examination, noting she had a history of violent incidents. McClintic stabbed one man, left her adoptive mother partially blind following an assault and put a small dog in a microwave when she was a child.
She also dramatically changed her story just days before the start of pretrial motions in January by saying she, and not Rafferty, killed Tori. Since agreeing to help police in May 2009, McClintic had made a number of statements alleging Rafferty delivered the fatal blows.
Derstine again sought to cast McClintic's testimony as unreliable during closing arguments, calling her a "prolific and accomplished liar." He suggested McClintic was the "engine" behind the abduction and Rafferty was simply a horrified spectator.
Prosecutors tried to strengthen McClintic's version of the events of April 8, 2009, by introducing a combination of DNA evidence, surveillance video and phone records linking Rafferty to the abduction and death.
A blood stain found in Rafferty's vehicle was almost certainly a match to Tori, a forensic biologist testified.
Cellphone experts said Rafferty's BlackBerry was used in Woodstock, Guelph and near Mount Forest on April 8, 2009. The records appeared to match the timeline of events presented by McClintic.
The jury also heard that Tori's remains were too decomposed to determine whether she had been sexually assaulted.
The Crown called as witnesses more than a dozen women Rafferty dated during the spring of 2009, many at the same time, and several he met in the days following Tori's disappearance. One woman, Charity Spitzig, said Rafferty asked her to work as a prostitute and she gave him almost $17,000 over a six-month period.
That testimony prompted Justice Heeney to warn the jury that Rafferty's character was not on trial.
Jurors were unaware that Rafferty had searched for child pornography in the months before Tori's disappearance, including queries related to the violent sexual assault of underage children.
That information was deemed inadmissible after police failed to get proper authorization to search the contents of his laptop and BlackBerry, although the Crown tried unsuccessfully to reintroduce the evidence in April.
[IMAGEGALLERY galleryid=2348 size=large]