Tori Stafford news obsessed Rafferty, court told

WARNING: This story contains disturbing details. The man accused of murdering Victoria (Tori) Stafford "was constantly checking the news" after the Ontario schoolgirl disappeared in April 2009, a witness testified on Thursday.

WARNING: This story contains disturbing details

Michael Rafferty, seen in this undated handout photo, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and kidnapping. (Canadian Press)

The man accused of murdering Ontario schoolgirl Victoria (Tori) Stafford "was constantly checking the news" after she disappeared in April 2009, a witness testified Thursday at his trial.

Michael Rafferty, 31, who has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the Grade 3 pupil's death, was constantly checking newspaper and television reports about her disappearance and claimed to have "inside information" on drug use by Tori's mother, Sarah Hodge testified.

Hodge said she met Rafferty for the first time on the dating website Plenty of Fish and in person on April 14, 2009. Rafferty talked with her about kidnapping children, she said, saying how abducted kids can grow up thinking their abductors are their parents.

At the time there was no back seat in Rafferty's car, she told the Superior Court jury in London, Ont. 

The back seat was gone when police arrested Rafferty in May 2009, and several neighbours have testified about seeing it in the car at points throughout the spring of that year. But it remains unclear whether it was there on April 8, the day Rafferty allegedly kidnapped Tori in his car with Terri-Lynne McClintic, 21.

McClintic, who is serving a life sentence after pleading guilty two years ago to first-degree murder in Tori's death, told police Rafferty sexually assaulted the girl in the back seat of his car. On their way home after disposing of the Tori's body, Rafferty got her to cut out stained pieces of material and foam from the seat, she said.

However, Rafferty's vehicle was missing its back seat when it was seized by police and they have been unable to find it.

Prosecutors allege McClintic lured Tori, 8, to Rafferty's car shortly after she left Oliver Stephens Public School in Woodstock, Ont. The pair then drove the girl first to Guelph and later to Mount Forest, where she was allegedly raped in Rafferty's car and killed.

The court also heard from a number of Rafferty's neighbours who said they saw a vehicle seat in front of his Woodstock home for garbage pickup sometime during the spring of 2009. Mike Griswold testified he saw a 10-centimetre tear in the car seat.

In earlier testimony Jennifer McLean, a biologist with the Centre of Forensic Sciences in Toronto, said two blond hairs obtained from a black pea coat found in Rafferty's home did not contain enough DNA for testing.

Tori, 8, disappeared outside Oliver Stephens Public School on April 8, 2009. (Canadian Press)

McLean told the court Wednesday a tiny blood spot was obtained from Rafferty's Honda Civic, which was seized after his May 19, 2009, arrest. The sample was compared with a DNA profile created for Tori and was almost certainly a match, McLean said.

McLean also testified Wednesday that a gym bag found in Rafferty's vehicle contained DNA from three people, with two of them almost certainly being Tori and the accused.

However, on Thursday defence lawyer Dirk Derstine questioned the validity of collecting multiple DNA samples from a single source. McLean said under cross-examination that the DNA evidence could not determine when the samples were deposited. She also said the DNA evidence was unable to tell whether Rafferty had raped Tori.

McClintic was one of several women Rafferty was dating in the months leading up to Tori's death. Court has so far heard about at least four other women he was seeing in that time frame.

On Thursday, Melanie LaBute, 39, testified that Rafferty went into the Staples store where she worked in late March and asked her out, saying he was new in town and wondered whether she knew of any good restaurants.

Michael Rafferty's 2003 Honda Civic had no back seat when it was seized by police following his arrest on May 19, 2009. (Canadian Press)

They played pool with some of LaBute's friends a few days later, and when he drove her home that night, LaBute said, his car was littered with Tim Hortons coffee cups, with blankets draped over the back seat.

"It just made me think of somebody who lived inside their car," she said.

LaBute said she ditched Rafferty after the first date. "He just seemed really needy to me," she testified. "He did end up calling…. He had just asked, 'Why haven't you called me? Is there something wrong?'"

Rafferty's trial began in early March.