A jury found Michael Rafferty guilty Friday of first degree murder and two other charges in the abduction, rape and killing of eight-year-old Victoria Stafford.
The decision came after the first full day of deliberations for the jurors.
Superior Court Judge Thomas Heeney commended the jury for taking its time and reaching a verdict that was “just and amply supported by the evidence.”
There was a huge sigh of relief from Tori’s family as the verdict was read. Her mother Tara McDonald burst into tears.
”I wanted to scream, scream something in the courtroom, but we just couldn’t do it,” said Tori’s father Rodney Stafford told reporters outside the courtroom.
”Happy, excitement, but at the same time there was a sense of loss because Tori is not coming home.”
Rafferty closed his eyes with no visible expression and his lawyer Dirk Derstine acknowledged it was an uphill struggle for the defence.
“It was quite a strong case for the Crown,” said Derstine, who wouldn’t comment on the possibility of an appeal.
Rafferty, 31, had pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and kidnapping in the April 2009 death.
After 10 weeks of at times graphic and disturbing evidence, the nine women and three men on the jury began their deliberations late Thursday after a full day of detailed instructions from Heeney.
The Crown alleged that Rafferty and girlfriend Terri-Lynne McClintic kidnapped Stafford outside her school in Woodstock, Ont., then drove to a rural area where the girl was raped and killed.
McClintic, who pleaded guilty two years ago to first-degree murder, initially told police Rafferty killed the girl, but testified at his trial that she delivered the fatal blows.
At one point during their deliberations, jurors returned to the courtroom to review the videotaped interview in which she accused Rafferty of being the killer.
No one will ever know whether the jury believed if Rafferty or McClintic wielded the hammer, whether they thought the abduction was random or targeted, or whether the sequence of events was planned all along – but the end result was the same for little Tori.
Whether Tori knew McClintic or she was lured away with talk of a dog, the eight-year-old with butterfly earrings and a skip in her step was still unwittingly led to her death on a sunny April day after school.
Whatever scenario the jury believed and whatever actually happened near Mount Forest, Ont., on April 8, 2009, Tori’s body – with 16 fractured ribs, internal injuries and a shattered skull – lay undiscovered for months wrapped in garbage bags under a pile of rocks in a desolate farmer’s field.
McClintic told the trial a horrifying story of a drug-addled couple abducting a young girl at random for the man’s sexual pleasure, then killing her with inconceivable brutality.
Rafferty used McClintic – no stranger to violence but also desperate to believe she had finally found a good man – as a pawn to do his perverse bidding, the Crown suggested.
An entirely different scenario was put forward by the defence, suggesting McClintic was completely in control that day, acting out her sickening torture fantasies with Rafferty oblivious to the truth of what was going on.
First-degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence with no chance of applying for parole for 25 years.
The 10-week trial, which began March 5, swung wildly from emotional testimony about Tori to intricate technical evidence to sensational glimpses into Rafferty’s busy social life.
Tori’s Grade 3 teacher, Jennifer Griffin-Murrell, wept as she described her happy-go-lucky student’s spunky personality and “mother hen” approach to the younger kids in the split Grade 2/3 class.
Tori spent her last day at her Woodstock, Ont., school on April 8 using a computer to research plants, sitting through a brief time out for goofing around and getting her tights wet by jumping in puddles, Griffin-Murrell said. As the dismissal bell rang at 3:25 p.m. Tori ran back to class to grab the butterfly earrings her mother had lent her that morning and walked out of Oliver Stephens Public School one minute after her classmates.
“OK, hon, we’ll see you tomorrow,” Griffin-Murrell recalled telling Tori as she walked out of school for the last time.
Several police officers also took the stand early on in the trial, though their testimony was at times no less emotional. The investigation into Tori’s disappearance and death is believed to be the largest such investigation ever in Canada and hundreds of police officers worked around the clock.
Veteran officer Det. Staff Sgt. Jim Smyth, best known for extracting a confession from sex killer Russell Williams, had to collect himself on the stand when he described discovering Tori’s remains.
When McClintic testified, her cross-examination by Rafferty’s lawyer revealed a chilling side – a “bloodthirsty” young woman who detailed endless torture fantasies in letters written to a jailhouse friend.
Rafferty himself remained largely an enigma to the jury. The only glimpse of his personality came late in the trial as 22 past girlfriends and flings took the stand, including 15 women he dated in the spring of 2009.
Charity Spitzig, a mother of four, forked over $16,835 to Rafferty from December 2008 until May 2009, when he was arrested.
Though the Crown explained – without the jury present – that they had instructed Spitzig not to say where the money came from, she nevertheless testified that she was giving Rafferty the money she made working as an escort.
The jury heard little else about Rafferty, even though police had unearthed a mountain of character evidence that was deemed inadmissible by Superior Court Judge Thomas Heeney.
Heeney concluded a police search of Rafferty’s laptop was unconstitutional, so jurors did not learn of the Google searches it contained for “real underage rape,” “nude preteen,” and other phrases suggestive of a sexual interest in children.
They also did not know police found evidence Rafferty had downloaded “substantial” amounts of child pornography and so-called “snuff” films – movies depicting actual murder – including one with a title indicating it involved a child.
There was also a lot of so-called “bad character” evidence that was kept from the jury.
A woman Rafferty met online alleged in a police report that he drugged, choked and raped her, but he was not charged.
A litany of past dates also reported he had a penchant for sexual choking. Some even complained of his “disconcerting” behaviour toward their children, the Crown said.