Stafford trial 'will be hard' on all, Crown says

A combination of electronic records and physical evidence will be used to link an Ontario man to the kidnapping and killing of eight-year-old Victoria (Tori) Stafford almost three years ago, Crown prosecutors say.

Michael Rafferty pleaded not guilty to 1st-degree murder, sexual assault

Stafford trial opens

The National

9 years agoVideo
The trial against Michael Rafferty, accused of killing eight-year-old Victoria Stafford in 2009, is underway, CBC's Melanie Nagy reports 3:05

A combination of electronic records and physical evidence will be used to link an Ontario man to the kidnapping and killing of eight-year-old Victoria (Tori) Stafford almost three years ago, Crown prosecutors say.

Michael Rafferty, 31, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and abduction. His trial began Monday in a London, Ont., courthouse.

Crown attorney Kevin Gowdey told jurors during opening remarks that video surveillance and BlackBerry records link Rafferty with Stafford’s disappearance on April 8, 2009. She was last seen near her school in Woodstock, Ont.

Stafford's remains were discovered more than three months later in a rural area north of the city. She was found wearing only a T-shirt and a pair of butterfly earrings.

The Crown said it will present evidence that Stafford died from repeated hammer blows to the head.

Gowdey said the accused’s Honda Civic, including DNA found inside it, will play an important role in the Crown’s case.

He said the trial "will travel down a long road."

The nine women and three men on the jury will also see some "graphic and unsettling" evidence in the days ahead as part of a trial "that will be hard on all of us," Gowdey said.

Hammer blows

Gowdey said a pathologist will testify that Stafford died as a result of multiple hammer blows to the head.

The Crown also revealed it will call Terri-Lynne McClintic — a 21-year-old woman who received a life sentence after she pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder of Tori in April 2010 — to testify.

Michael Rafferty wore a grey suit and a blue-striped tie when the trial began Monday. (Alex Tavshunsky/CBC)

On Monday morning, Justice Thomas Heeney gave the jury instructions on the law, their duties and other issues.

He warned the jury that they will hear evidence in the trial that many would consider "graphic and disturbing."

Heeney also told the jurors not to accept the Crown’s opening statement as evidence.

The trial, which is expected to last several months, was moved to London because of the high-profile nature of the case. During jury selection last week, Heeney indicated the trial could last until June.

Rafferty wore a light grey suit in court Monday, along with a blue-striped tie. His hair was cut short and he was clean-shaven.

Several family members were in the courtroom, including the girl's father, Rodney Stafford, and grandmother, Doreen Graichen. Tara McDonald, Tori's mother, was also seen at the courthouse.

Stafford’s father puts faith in jury

Earlier Monday, Rodney Stafford, told reporters outside court that he has to put his confidence in the jury and the justice system as the Crown begins laying out its case against the man accused of killing his daughter.

"I have to put all my faith into this jury — you got to go with what they come up with," he said.

He also expressed confidence in the work that the police had done in bringing the case to court, as well as the Crown attorneys who will present it to the jury.

"My faith’s with the Crown and the police in doing their job," Stafford said.

The trial comes nearly three years after her disappearance led to a massive police search involving hundreds of officers, as well as widespread media attention from across the country.

Intense media coverage

The trial is expected to draw extensive media coverage. Some reporters began lining up in front of the courthouse around 5:30 a.m., CBC's Steven D'Souza said.

Journalists in the courtroom will be allowed to use electronic devices, including laptops and smartphones, but must have transmitting functions turned off. They can send information from a separate satellite room, which has a video link with the courtroom.

The 12-member jury, along with two alternates, was chosen from a list of hundreds last week. During the selection process, the Crown and the defence were able to ask potential jurors whether they had been affected by pretrial publicity.

"The allegations in this case are horrible," Rafferty's lawyer, Dirk Derstine, said outside court last week. "It's very important that everybody keep an open mind and everybody not have a rush to judgment."

The judge said last week he would raise the compensation amount for jurors, in part, because the length of the case.

In most trials in Ontario, jurors are paid $40 a day if they sit longer than 10 days, and from the 50th day onward they get $100 a day. For this trial, jurors will receive $40 a day from the outset, rising to $100 a day starting on the 25th day.

With files from Jon Hembrey, Melanie Nagy and The Canadian Press