Tori Stafford trial told Crown's key witness is a 'liar'

The lawyer for the man accused of killing Victoria (Tori) Stafford attacked the credibility of the Crown's key witness during his closing address to the jury, calling Terri-Lynne McClintic an "accomplished liar" with a history of violence and saying she was the engine behind the eight-year-old girl's abduction and murder.

WARNING: This story contains disturbing details

Michael Rafferty pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and kidnapping in the disappearance and death of eight-year-old Victoria (Tori) Stafford. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

The lawyer for the man accused of killing Victoria (Tori) Stafford attacked the credibility of the Crown's key witness during his closing address to the jury Monday, calling Terri-Lynne McClintic an "accomplished liar" with a history of violence.

Taking aim at McClintic's credibility, defence lawyer Dirk Derstine said McClintic was the driving force behind the eight-year-old girl's abduction and violent death, pointing to inconsistencies in her versions of events.

Michael Rafferty, 31, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and kidnapping. His trial in a London, Ont., court began on March 5.

Derstine suggested to the jury that McClintic is "no friend of the truth" and urged the jury members to be dispassionate in deciding the case.

The Crown is expected to begin its closing address tomorrow morning, which is expected to take two days. 

McClintic, who pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder of Tori two years ago, testified earlier in Rafferty's trial, saying she was directed to abduct a little girl on his orders. The 21-year-old said she lured Tori to his Honda Civic on April 8, 2009, shortly after the eight-year-old left Oliver Stephens Public School in Woodstock, Ont.

The pair then drove the girl to Guelph and later to Mount Forest, a small community 100 kilometres north of Woodstock. McClintic told jurors she killed the girl with a hammer after watching Rafferty rape the Grade 3 student.  

Victoria (Tori) Stafford disappeared outside her elementary school in Woodstock, Ont., on April 8, 2009. (Canadian Press)

McClintic, who is serving a life sentence, made a number of statements before the current trial, saying Rafferty delivered the fatal blows.

Derstine said that McClintic "wilfully, carefully and with real skill attempted — and often succeeded — in misleading police officers."

"Clearly, Ms. McClintic is a prolific and accomplished liar," he said.

The kidnapping was not orchestrated by Rafferty, there is no objective evidence that Rafferty raped Tori as alleged, and he is not the one who wielded the hammer, Derstine suggested. For McClintic to testify otherwise is "absurd," he said.

Deborah Murphy, Rafferty's mother, spoke outside the court Monday, saying she believes her son isn't guilty.

"There's only two things I have to say," Murphy told reporters gathered outside the courthouse. "First of all, my son is innocent, and this could happen to any man that's walking around right now. Terri-Lynne McClintic has wrecked our lives and I just hope that justice is served and that he's freed."

Tori's father, Rodney Stafford, was also in court on Monday. He said he hopes the jury will think of his daughter when they deliberate.

McClintic as the 'engine'

During his closing statement, Derstine repeatedly questioned McClintic's version of events, pointing out that she changed her story about who killed Tori. He also challenged the Crown's theory that Tori was abducted at random.

"Over and over again, what becomes plain is she’s lying because she does not want to admit her moral culpability in all of this," Derstine said, adding that the only truth is that McClintic killed the girl. He reviewed some of the timeline of the day Tori went missing and argued that his client was a horrified onlooker to McClintic's crimes.

Derstine suggested Rafferty had no idea the child McClintic had in his backseat was in any danger, which is why he was not concerned about going to a public place like Home Depot. The defence also suggested that Rafferty didn't know McClintic was inside buying the hammer she'd later use to kill the eight-year-old, CBC's Steven D'Souza said.

Derstine spoke about McClintic's criminal record and dark writing, saying she was like Jekyll and Hyde.

The defence lawyer said the objective evidence points to McClintic, and the rest is just her word.

Simply put, Derstine suggested, McClintic's evidence is not to be trusted. She has lied in the past and she lied to the jury, Derstine said, with one exception.

"I still urge you to find that you could find beyond a reasonable doubt that she was the one who bashed in poor Tori Stafford's head," Derstine said.

Derstine began his closing arguments by thanking the 12-member jury, telling them their role will now change from spectators to decision makers. He also urged jurors to judge the trial dispassionately, saying it has been set against the backdrop of an "unspeakable tragedy."

Derstine suggested Rafferty was simply a horrified spectator to the abduction and death of the girl and that McClintic was the "engine" behind the events on April 8, 2009.

Tori's remains were found more than three months later in a rural area near Mount Forest.

Earlier in the trial, Derstine suggested to McClintic that she took the girl over a "drug debt" and later offered her to Rafferty as a sexual gift, which he rejected. McClintic then killed the eight-year-old while he was away from the car.

But Rafferty's lawyer didn't repeat it in his closing remarks. He did not offer an explanation as to why McClintic might have killed Tori or even targeted her at all, but Derstine reminded the jury he doesn't have to prove anything. The onus is on the Crown to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Justice Thomas Heeney warned jurors that statements made during closing arguments should not be taken as evidence.

Jurors heard from 62 witnesses

Over the last two months, jurors have heard from 62 witnesses and viewed almost 200 exhibits.

The defence presented its one-day case last week, calling a woman who picked up her grandchildren from Oliver Stephens Public School on the day Tori disappeared.

The woman, who cannot be identified, told jurors she saw a woman matching McClintic's description walk into the school and later saw her walking down the street with a young girl.

McClintic, however, testified that she waited outside the school on April 8, 2009.

The defence did not call any other witnesses, ending speculation Rafferty would testify. 

With files from CBC's Steven D'Souza and The Canadian Press