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Tori was a dear little girl: Christie Blatchford
Jurors warned about the horrors of evidence to come
By Christie Blatchford, Postmedia News - March 6, 2012
Mike Faille-Postmedia N Michael Thomas Rafferty is on trial for the murder of Tori Stafford, who disappeared on April 8, 2009.
At the heart of the case is the brutal death of the dear little girl a whole country came to know in the spring and summer of 2009, Victoria (Tori) Stafford.
It was on April 8 of that year when the sunny eight-year-old first went missing, improbably disappearing on a three-block walk to her home in the town of Woodstock, about 40 km east of London.
It was, prosecutor Kevin Gowdey said Monday in his opening address to the jurors, "the very first day she was allowed to leave school and walk home by herself.
"It was also the last day of her life." Tori's badly decomposed remains weren't discovered, under a rock pile deep in the lush countryside of this part of southwestern Ontario, for 103 days, until July 19.
By then, her face was familiar through pictures released by police, missing posters and her parents' increasingly desperate pleas for her safe return.
Gowdey painted a spooky picture of the ordinary end-of-day scene, so familiar to parents everywhere, at Oliver Stephens Public School that Wednesday afternoon in April.
It was just before 3: 30 p.m. As the chattering youngsters spilled out of the school, some were met by family or friends, or hopped a bus, or made their way home uneventfully on their own.
But two people, the prosecutor said, were waiting for Tori and they intended only to do her harm.
The pair were Terri-Lynne McClin-tic, who in a separate proceeding two years ago pleaded guilty to and was convicted of first-degree murder for her part in the kidnapping and killing of the girl, and Michael Rafferty, the 31-year-old now on trial.
McClintic, now 21, will be the star witness, where her former boyfriend, broad-crested and seemingly serene in the prisoner's dock, is pleading not guilty to first-degree murder, kidnap-ping and sexual assault.
According to Gowdey, the harm the two did the little blond was unimaginable: An autopsy showed Tori died from repeated hammer blows to the head, but that other injuries she suffered - blunt force trauma sufficient to lacerate her liver and fracture many of her ribs - would have been fatal.
She was discovered wearing only her Hannah Montana T-shirt and the butterfly earrings she had borrowed that morning from her mother, Tara McDonald, because she was going to christen her new bedroom in her mom's new house by playing host to a movie night for some friends.
"Excited by this prospect," Gowdey said, "Tori dressed up for school that day" and to make the outfit complete, McDonald allowed her to borrow the earrings.
McDonald will be among the first witnesses to testify, a task Gowdey described as a hard one for her and a hard one for the jurors to hear, but necessary.
While it seemed at first Tori vanished into thin air, police quickly seized surveillance video from a nearby high school, which showed the girl walking with a young woman dressed in a white winter coat and with her dark hair in a ponytail.
Parents waiting for their kids saw the two chatting, but, as Gowdey said, "They thought nothing of it at the time. They assumed Tori was with family or a friend.
"After all," the prosecutor said, invoking the audacity of the crime with six simple words, "it was broad daylight."
The mystery woman was McClintic, and she led Tori to a nearby parking lot, Gowdey said, where Rafferty "sat in his Honda Civic, waiting."
The car was caught on video near the school three times that day.
The pair, with their stolen girl cargo, then hit the 401 Highway and headed east on a bizarre trip - first to Guelph, Ont., where Rafferty allegedly stopped to buy some Percocet pills from a friend and then went to an ATM, and McClintic bought a hammer and green garbage bags at a Home Depot, then into Wellington County and the countryside.
The video cameras ubiquitous in the modern world, Gowdey said, caught Rafferty at the ATM, and McClintic at the Home Depot.
Tori wasn't seen on any of the video, but she was indisputably in the car: Her DNA was later found in blood detected on the rear passenger door of the Civic.
In one spot, on a gym bag found in the car, Tori's blood was mixed with Rafferty's.
The trial began with some uniquely Canadian touches, a mysterious and unexpected delay to a proceeding already almost three years in the making: warnings galore to the jurors about the horrors of the evidence to come, and courtly euphemisms.
For instance, the jurors were told by Ontario Superior Court Judge Thomas Heeney while Rafferty may be occasionally referred to as "the accused," they were to take no negative inference from the term because "it is simply a label to describe one of the participants in a trial."
That is surely a most delicate take: The accused is merely a participant, like the lawyers and the judge? Really?
Gowdey told the jurors that after they hear from McClintic, "you will unquestionably be disturbed by the choices she made with Michael Rafferty to bring this all about."
McClintic is now a convicted killer. Surely the jurors will be more troubled by the results of her "choices" than by her decisions.
Tori Stafford's battered body was found inside garbage bags of the same colour and size as the brand McClintic bought that day at the Home Depot. One bad choice, one appalling result.