Guilty, guilty, guilty – he will rot in that prison. Tori Stafford’s murderer to be formally sentenced next week.

Part 9

This series is a first person account, told by a parent who has lived through the fear and pain that rocked Woodstock when an eight year old girl was abducted on her way home from school and subsequently murdered.  Elizabeth  Maloney takes us through each step of the ordeal and starts with: A girl the same age as my daughter – is missing, she didn’t get home after school. The worry sets in. No longer can a parent feel reassured by the spotlight of safety once provided by broad daylight. Things are different now.  It can happen anytime, anywhere, and the most gut-wrenching of all; to anyone.

 By Elizabeth Maloney

WOODSTOCK ON  May 11, 2012    At 9:09pm Friday evening, there was a silence throughout Woodstock. The news was broadcasting- the verdict is in. I was on my cell texting friends, warning everyone to get in front of a TV  A friend, who does not have cable,  dashed over to her neighbour and banged on the door. Her startled neighbour was puzzled until she told him the verdict was in as she rushed into the house.   It was that important. I think the city must have ground to a halt. In fact the more I think about it, I am sure there were no cars going by on my usually busy street. We were all waiting, holding our breath.

I had Goosebumps and the hair on the back of my neck was standing on end. I was furiously texting between 3 people. This is it. They are back earlier than we had thought. This was either going to be really good or really bad. The newscasters keep promising any moment we will know, be it seemed to be taking forever.

He will live in a prison with Bernardo and Williams and sit in his cell for 23 hours of each day. Child molesters are seen as the worst of the worst in prison society - there are men in there who will want to do to him what he did to that eight year old child.

And then suddenly,…..Count 1, murder in the first degree: GUILTY! I swear I heard a collective cheer within the city.  More texting back and forth. Count 2, kidnapping: GUILTY! And Count 3, sexual assault: GUILTY!  I believe a loud “YES!” escaped my lips and I pumped my fist. It was a celebration! It was over and Tori had justice!  It was like a weight suddenly lifted off the entire city.

More messages back and forth. Many wishing Rafferty would rot in prison. Several stating they wish Canada had the death penalty back. Postings littered Facebook, many making similar statements. In the end we just all felt better. We all felt he was guilty and now it was fact. Michael Rafferty was no longer the accused- it was Michael Rafferty, the convicted murderer and rapist of Tori Stafford. It was vindication, for Tori, her family and Woodstock as a whole.

Tara McDonald - an addiction to drugs brought her into a world with people who would end the life of her daughter.

Tori’s mother, Tara McDonald, left the courtroom quickly and did not stop to talk to the media. The emotion of the moment must have been overwhelming. Tori’s brother Darren was reportedly with her in the courtroom. Now 14 years old, he and his mother hugged when the verdict was announced. Someone in the courtroom asked Tara if she was happy and she said yes.

Rodney Stafford and his mother Doreen Graichen came out and spoke to the reporters. Rodney close to tears at one point said that they were “happy” with the verdict and thanked the Crown, the investigators, the people of Woodstock and even the whole province.

The Crown and Police Services both made several statements, but refused to answer questions, out of respect for the McDonald/Stafford families. They also cited the 30 day waiting period for the appeal. It was short and sweet and to the point. Rafferty was going to prison and for no less than 25 years. The soonest Rafferty could be released from prison would be 2037.

I had tears in my eyes. Especially when Rodney spoke. As I said before, I didn’t know the family, but in the last three years, I felt I knew Tori and in a way I had come to love her, just as the rest of the city had. The emotion of it all was a lot to deal with. Especially in light of what we had learned about Rafferty since the Jury was charged and sequestered.

Back on Wednesday, when the jury was safe away from the public, debating in a room in the London courthouse, new details began to leak out about the investigation into Rafferty.  Police had found much more evidence than we had been led to believe. When Rafferty was arrested he had his IPod Touch with him which was seized and searched. A search warrant was issued for Rafferty’s residence and a search there found a hard drive in a plastic bag hidden behind his dresser.  The hard drive harboured images of child porn and the laptop had a history of searches for “pre-teen” and “underage rape”.  He also downloaded a movie on Karla Homolka, at least one snuff film involving a child and a “how to” guide for raping children.

Unspeakable grief - Tori's Father sitting with his Mother.

Pretty damning evidence right? Wrong! The jury would never hear about it. The evidence was found under a faulty search warrant that omitted to list contents of computers or other electronics. Justice Thomas Heeney, ruled on January 31, 2012 that Rafferty’s rights were violated by the search of the electronics, as police did not have the appropriate warrant and thus the evidence was set aside.

Residents of Woodstock, and practically everywhere, were outraged when they heard this.  To most of us, this erased all doubt in our eyes about Rafferty’s guilt. To know the jury may never hear it was like a stake driven through the heart. Many of us had been debating if they would convict Rafferty on the sexual assault charge and to know the evidence was right there, but inadmissible was utter torture. If he  somehow escaped the charge, I don’t know what we would have done.

But the jurors saw through it. Their almost uncanny perception of this case drove them to stop deliberations and ask for clarification of what could be termed sexual assault. Pointing specifically to Tori’s clothing from the waist down being removed. I think that astute question is what sealed the fate of Mr. Rafferty. That is personal opinion, but I honestly believe that. I’m sure we will find out from the jurors themselves in the days to come.

So tonight Woodstock breathes a heavy sign of relief. An end to a nightmare and the hellish ordeal of bringing the responsible parties to justice. As Rodney said during his interview tonight, it doesn’t bring Tori back. But I’ll tell you what,  it does give us: a little bit of justice and a whole lot of closure. It is now time for the family to heal and begin the process of living life without Tori. Their battle is far from over.  Every day will still present challenges in dealing with their grief. I wish them well and I hope they find  a reason to smile again.

All the public could see was a sweet innocent child - and it was painful.

But for tonight all there is left to say is “Rest in peace Tori –  finally, you can rest in peace.”

Next week a judge will formally sentence Michael Rafferty to “life in prison”, which under out laws means he must remain in a prison for not less than 25 years.  There is a faint hope” cause that allows him to apply for an earlier release.   There is a reason for calling it the faint hope clause.

During the sentencing victims of this horrible, despicable crime are given an opportunity to make a statement on the impact the crime has had on their lives.

 

 

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