Suspects arrested. Now for the trial. We expected it to be a simple case of convicting – little did we know.

Part 7

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 10, 2012  With Tori’s accused murderers finally behind bars, now there was nothing to do but prepare for the trial. Things became calm and quiet for quite a long time. But on December 9, 2010 news broke that Terri-Lynn McClintic had plead guilty to the first degree murder of Tori Stafford. But not on that day- way back on April 30, 2010. A publication ban placed by the courts had pre-empted our knowledge of this fact, but a Supreme court decision was now allowing us some of the details of McClintic’ s plea and how it played out.

 

The community felt cheated when there was no trial for Terri-Lynne McClintic -just a sentencing hearing at which Tori's brother spoke of losing his "bestest" friend.

As a member of this city I have to admit, I was stunned. I couldn’t believe this all happened months ago and was hidden from us. I felt cheated. Our community collectively looked for Tori, worried about Tori and mourned Tori and now we had been shut out of getting justice for “our” little girl.

I understand that it was all a necessary part of the legal wrangling that go hand-in-hand with a case like this, but still it hurt. Terri-Lynn McClintic escaped having to face the community as a whole and I was just going to have to get over the injustice of it all.

At least she had to face Tori’s family. They were in court that day and even gave victim impact statements before her sentencing. One by one, they took the stand. Tori’s mother Tara, father Rodney, brother Darren and other family members, told of a loss that pales to all else in this world. Their messages were a blend of sadness for the loss of Tori in their life, how their world was different now and the outrage of why it was their family member who had to die. Darren’s was perhaps the most painful to hear, speaking of the loss of his “bestest friend” and how she was the most important person in the world to him.

After all the proceedings were said and done, Terri-Lynn was sentenced to life- the mandatory sentence in a first degree murder plea. Her sentence was to be served at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ontario. Terri-Lynn had already served 7 months of her sentence by the time we finally found this all out.

In addition to Terri-Lynn’s plea arrangement and sentence, an edited version of McClintic’s statement to police, an edited version of the agreed statement of facts describing the events of April 8, 2009 and details of her cooperation with police were also publicized for the first time. Finally we had a time-line of the day in question, from when Tori was abducted to her untimely death only hours later.  McClintic admitted her guilt, freely and willingly, even attempting to express remorse for her actions. And now she was going to jail, her part in this tragedy played out and judged. But that was not the end of Terri-Lynn’s involvement. We would see her again in 2012.

We heard almost nothing from McClintic during her sentencing - but we would hear from her again in 2012 - it was to be terrible.

With McClintic successfully navigating a clear and media-free path to jail, the public was still looking to hold someone accountable. Enter Mr. Michael Rafferty, McClintic’s boyfriend and co-conspirator. Upon his arrest, Rafferty took the opposite approach to that of his former girlfriend. He hid from the cameras and refused to co-operate with police. Since his arrest in May 2009, Rafferty has not said one word. He never spoke out; not even to proclaim his innocence. There is a saying “ better to remain silent and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” Either Rafferty or his lawyers must have seen the wisdom  in this old adage.  And as we were about to find out it would seem his whole defense was based on this premise.

On March 5th, 2012, the case that was supposed to happen in 2010 finally began in a courtroom in London. Proceedings had been moved from Woodstock to protect the integrity and fairness of the trial. No one in Woodstock seemed to mind though. No one wanted Rafferty to have grounds for appeal, so it had to be done right. The general outlook on the situation can be summed up using the words of a fellow Woodstonians. “(Rafferty was).. far enough to be tried and close enough to burn.” And almost everyone in Woodstock wanted him to “burn”.

As anxious as we were to have the murder trial underway, we weren’t prepared for some of the horrible details that would be revealed through the course of witness testimony. I will warn you, just as the judge warned the jury, some of these details are very disturbing and can be quite difficult to handle. But as I see it, we have to face the evil in order to honour Tori and her memory. The only way to acknowledge Tori’s life is to acknowledge the agony she endure for those last few hours of her life.

The Crown called 61 witnesses in total- Tori’s 3rd grade teacher, her mother Tara McDonald, co-accused Terri McClintic, the Coroner and the OPP officer who found Tori’s body, just to name a few.

Tori Stafford's grade three teacher took the stand for what had to be one of the hardest days in her teaching career.

Tori had left school just like any other day and was walking to her mother’s place on Frances St. But as we all too well know, she never made it there. Terri-Lynn picked up the tale at that point, telling the courtroom how she approach Tori and talked to her about seeing her puppy. She lured Tori into Rafferty’s car and the final moments of Tori’s life began to tick away. She told how they stopped so Rafferty could buy drugs and another stop at the Home Depot in Guelph so she could purchase the supplies that would aid in concealing Tori’s broken little body.

And then the drive to the abandoned, secluded field off of 6th Concession near Mount Forest. McClintic said Rafferty had been talking of abducting a child and had even wanted one younger than Tori for his sinister purposes. According to McClintic, she walked away from the car, giving Rafferty the opportunity to repeatedly rape the little girl. McClintic only came back when Tori asked to go to the bathroom, taking the little girl by the hand. I can only imagine what must have been said between them. Tori’s tear-stained face, pleading to just go home. McClintic reassuring the girl to quiet her.

Tori died shortly after that, leaving the mystery of who really killed her. Crushing her skull with a claw hammer and breaking 16 of her ribs, one of them brutally murdered Tori. Only three people know the truth about that moment: Rafferty, McClintic and Tori. No matter who delivered the devastating blows, one could argue the other facilitated these events. One killed Tori and the other helped kill Tori with their inaction. Then they worked together to bury Tori in garbage bags, under a pile of rocks.

The Coroner Dr. Pollanen testified to Tori’s injuries, supporting McClintic’s account of events, but could not offer proof of the sexual assault. Tori’s body was found with no pants, clad only in her Hannah Montana shirt.  Her body was already in an advanced state of decomposition when she was found and that area of her body had already deteriorated completely, thus eliminating any trace of the alleged assault.

She had been murdered the day she was abducted her body left under a pile of rocks.

OPP Det.-Staff Sgt. Jim Smyth, also took the stand, as the officer that found Tori’s body. He testified to the nature in which Tori was found and corroborated McClintic’s testimony of how she & Rafferty disposed of the body.  Smyth had used information regarding Rafferty’s cell phone usage in the area, and acting on a hunch went for a drive to check out the area. After noting similarities to McClintic’s confession he continued to investigate until he found a rock pile,…and Tori.

Rafferty’s behavior after the crime was also presented to the court. Rafferty was portrayed as a womanizer, frequently juggling women. They attempted to show how he manipulated them, specifically talking one, a mother of four, into prostitution and channeling the proceeds directly to him.  After eight  weeks of testimony, the prosecution rested.

The media waited with baited breath- would Rafferty take the stand to refute the testimony of his ex-girlfriend?  Maintaining his silence it was announced Rafferty would not be taking the stand in his own defense. Instead the Defence’s response was short and simple. They called one witness, previously unknown to anyone. This witness, a grandmother of another student at Oliver Stephens, testified that she saw Terri-Lynn inside Oliver Stevens. She claimed she saw McClintic walk away with Tori, looking very determined and on a mission. Rafferty’s attorney, Dirk Derstine, was trying to inject reasonable doubt into McClintic’ s testimony. Implying she forged the plot to abduct Tori as a means of enforcing a drug debt. He connected the dots between Tara buying drug’s from McClintic’ s mother Carol and showing they had previous knowledge of each other. Mr. Derstine was not trying to prove his client innocent, but merely to cast a broad enough shadow of doubt.

 

Rafferty in a police car. He chose not to take the witness stand. Was there enough evidence to convict?

And then unceremoniously, the Defence rested.

That brings us to today. Wrapping up it’s closing arguments, the defence went through its alternate theory once more and pointed out what was circumstantial. Almost wagging a finger at the jury and reminding them that they cannot convict if there is a reasonable doubt.

And in a day or two, Ontario Superior Court Justice Thomas Heeney will charge the jury with determining the fate of Michael Rafferty. The decision to convict or acquit will be their’ s, and their’ s alone. All we can do is have faith and wait, hoping they make the best choice with the information presented to them.

 

Tori Stafford. We lost her - too soon. Woodstock needed a conviction.

It’s no secret that Tori’s family and the community of Woodstock are praying for a conviction in this case. Closure is desperately needed. Tori left our world just over three years ago, her last hours on this planet the most horrible a child could suffer. Tori was not allowed to die in peace, but perhaps with the end of the trial looming near, she will soon get to rest in peace.

Part 6

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