Ontario judges reject appeal in Tori Stafford murder

Ontario's top court has dismissed an appeal by the man convicted of killing eight-year-old Victoria Stafford seven years ago. Michael Rafferty wanted a new trial.

Some arguments by Michael Rafferty's lawyer 'not even close,' judge says

Michael Rafferty was 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 in 2009. (Canadian Press)

Ontario's top court has dismissed an appeal by the man convicted of killing eight-year-old Victoria Stafford seven years ago.

Michael Rafferty was sentenced to life in prison in 2012 with no chance of parole for 25 years for kidnapping, sexual assault causing bodily harm and first-degree murder in the death of the Woodstock, Ont., girl. He asked the court for a new trial on Monday.

Rafferty's former girlfriend, Terri-Lynne McClintic, pleaded guilty in 2010 to first-degree murder, initially telling police Rafferty killed the girl, but testifying at his trial that she delivered the fatal blows.
Tori Stafford, 8, was abducted in April 2009. She was sexually assaulted and murdered. Her body was found more than three months later. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

The panel of three judges with the Court of Appeal for Ontario said they didn't accept the arguments presented by Rafferty's lawyer, Paul Calarco.

"You argued an extremely difficult appeal very well, but I simply don't agree with you," said Appeal Court Justice John Laskin.

Among those on hand to hear the appeal were Victoria's mother, father, uncle, family friends and Woodstock police Chief Bill Renton, who used to be with the Ontario Provincial Police and was the lead investigator on Victoria's murder. Family and supporters cheered when the judges dismissed the appeal.

"We were here wasting taxpayers' money, to be quite honest," said Victoria's father, Rodney Stafford. "We really had no reason to be here. All the information that was put forward in 2012 landed him where he was and that's exactly where he deserves to be."

Family members in court were wearing Victoria's favourite colour, purple, in her memory.

"In a sense, we can move forward," Stafford said, adding that Rafferty can continue to "rot in prison." 

Rodney Stafford, Tori's father, expressed anger at having to go through the appeal. (CBC)

Earlier, Calarco argued that the trial judge made several errors, including failing to warn the jury against relying on McClintic's testimony. He also said the trial judge failed with the instructions to the jury.

The jury, for example, was not given the option of finding Rafferty guilty of being an accessory after the fact, he said. 

Calarco said some of Rafferty's actions after the killing — such as cleaning his car, disposing of clothing and giving a false alibi — were consistent with being an accessory.

But Laskin said they were "not equally consistent on this record, Mr. Calarco — not even close to being equally consistent."

Calarco also called McClintic an unsavoury character with a history of violence and lying.

"She's an unmitigated liar," he said. 

He argued that McClintic lured the victim on her own and then told Rafferty to walk away before she hit Stafford with a hammer.

The judges dismissed Rafferty's appeal before hearing the Crown's arguments. 

The Crown was expected to argue the judge gave a fair and balanced charge and it would have been impossible for the jury to have been unaware of McClintic's credibility problems.

The court will issue its reasons for the dismissal later.

With files from CBC News