LONDON, Ont. – A jury has found Michael Rafferty guilty of first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and kidnapping in the death of eight-year-old Victoria Stafford.
The decision came after the first full day of deliberations for the jurors.
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 as the guilty verdicts were read.
Sentencing is expected to take place on Tuesday. Victim impact statements are also expected to be read that day.
**Warning: Details of this case are graphic and may disturb some viewers**
Reporter Laura Carney is in London for the trial. Follow her tweets live, below.
Rafferty’s 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.
The nine women and three men were sequestered to consider the verdicts Thursday at about 5:40 p.m. and ended for the night at about 8:40 p.m. with a one-hour dinner break. Deliberations resumed at 9 a.m. Friday.
Deliberations were expected to end for the day at 9 p.m. but it was announced that the jury would continue on.
Around 9:15 court officials said the jury had reached a verdict.
The deliberations were on hold four times on Friday because the jury had questions for the judge.
The first question was reportedly about the statement McClintic gave to the police early on in the case. The jury requested to re-watch Terri-Lynne McClintic’s confession video.
A one-hour portion of the six-hour interview McClintic gave to police in Woodstock, Ont., on May 24, 2009, six weeks after Tori’s brutally beaten body was left in a field far from home, was played for the jury Friday morning.
Several hours after reviewing the video Friday, jurors sent a second question to Heeney, asking, “Does removing a child’s underclothing in an unlawful confinement situation constitute a sexual assault?”
The judge’s answer: Yes, because it is an application of force to the child, regardless of whether it’s in a confinement situation.
At the request of jurors, Heeney also issued a clarificiation of his final instructions, telling them, “If you totally reject evidence that points to innocence, meaning you neither believe it nor does it even leave you with a reasonable doubt, that does not amount to affirmative evidence of guilt.
“You still have to look at all the rest of the evidence that you do accept to see if you are satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the Crown has proven its case.”
The jury then asked the judge “does removing a child’s clothing in an unlawful confinement constitute sexual assault causing bodily harm.”
The judge then stated that the jury would be allowed to consider lesser charge of sex assault. The indictment was originally for sex assault causing bodily harm.
Rafferty, 31, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and kidnapping in the death of Stafford.
Stafford vanished outside her elementary school in Woodstock, Ont., on April 8, 2009, and her remains were found four months later.
Justice Thomas Heeney spent most of day Thursday delivering his charge to the jury in a complex, full-day order.
They could conclude that Rafferty killed Tori by striking her in the head with a hammer or decide his girlfriend Terri-Lynne McClintic, 21, dealt the fatal blows.
McClintic testified at Rafferty’s trial that he urged her to kidnap a young girl for him and when she snatched Tori and shoved her into Rafferty’s car they drove to a rural area hours away. It was there, in a secluded farmer’s field, in a spot nestled behind a thicket of trees, that Rafferty raped Tori, McClintic testified.
McClintic, who is already serving a life sentence after pleading guilty two years ago to first-degree murder, had maintained from the time she confessed in May 2009 until January of this year that it had been Rafferty who killed Tori by repeatedly striking her in the head.
But a few days before Rafferty’s pre-trial, McClintic changed her story, testifying that after witnessing the rape, pent-up rage from her own childhood traumas caused her to snap, grabbing the hammer and killing the girl. The Crown suggested she might have been the killer, but if so the death was more planned than she let on.
Whether Rafferty or McClintic wielded the hammer, he can still be found guilty of first-degree murder, the Crown told the jury.
The scenarios Heeney described, which will direct the jury’s deliberations, turn on whether the jurors think Rafferty or McClintic killed Tori:
- If they think Rafferty killed Tori himself and that it was planned and deliberate, he is guilty of first-degree murder.
- If they think Rafferty killed Tori himself and that a kidnapping or sexual assault was part of the same series of events as the murder, he is guilty of first-degree murder.
- If they believe Rafferty intended to help or encourage McClintic to kill Tori knowing she was going to commit a planned and deliberate murder, he is guilty of first-degree murder.
- If they think Rafferty meant to help or encourage McClintic to kill Tori and a kidnapping or sexual assault was part of the same series of events, he is guilty of first-degree murder.
- If, on the other hand, the jury believes Rafferty caused Tori’s death, but it wasn’t planned and deliberate or part of a kidnapping or sexual assault, he is guilty of second-degree murder.
A second-degree murder conviction would also be in order if jurors believe McClintic killed Tori, and Rafferty meant to help or encourage her, but didn’t know the murder was planned.
- If the jury believes McClintic killed Tori, and Rafferty meant to help or encourage her and kidnapping and sexual assault wasn’t part of the same series of events, second-degree murder would again be the result.
- If the jury believes McClintic killed Tori and that Rafferty intentionally helped or encouraged her to commit an “objectively dangerous” act, but didn’t know she was going to kill Tori, he would be guilty of manslaughter.
There are numerous things the jury must consider in making their decision, including what can be considered evidence.
Once the jury had been sequestered it was revealed that certain evidence had been withheld from the jury, after it was deemed that Rafferty’s charter rights were violated when investigators searched his laptop without a warrant.
Examination of the laptop revealed that Rafferty had searched for child pornography as well as videos that implied rape only days before Stafford went missing.
Also excluded from the jury was the following interrogation with Rafferty, which the judge decided would be prejudicial.
During the interrogation Rafferty comes face-to-face with McClintic and is compared to notorious Canadian serial-killer and rapist Paul Bernardo.
**Warning: Contents of the video are graphic and may disturb some viewers**
- What the jury didn’t see: Bernardo comparison makes Rafferty seem to gag
- What the jury didn’t hear: shocking details about Michael Rafferty’s character
- McClintic’s abrupt about-face testimony posed conundrum for Crown