WOODSTOCK, Ont. — The father of a slain eight-year-old girl set eyes on one of his daughter’s accused killers for the first time Monday, but Rodney Stafford said there was little point in making a scene.
Instead, Stafford sat quietly, several rows behind Michael Rafferty, who faces a first-degree murder charge in the abduction and death of the Grade 3 student.
Rafferty’s trial, it was decided Monday, will be held outside of this small southwestern Ontario community where Tori was abducted after leaving school almost two years ago.
The Crown and defence agreed the accused killer could not get a fair trial in Woodstock, which was traumatized by Tori’s abduction and murder.
Stafford said it made no difference to him where Rafferty would be tried.
“I have no preferences; I couldn’t care less; I just want to get this done,” Stafford said outside court.
“We can’t bring our little girl home but we’ve got to move on with our own lives.”
Stafford said it was difficult setting eyes on Rafferty for the first time.
“There’s four rows of people stopping me from wanting to get to the front of the courtroom but I just can’t … (you’ve) got to be smart about things.”
Tori’s mother, Tara McDonald, was among those on hand to see the accused in person, who has made other appearances by video link.
Tori was abducted as she left her school on April 8, 2009.
Rafferty, 30, and Terri-Lynne McClintic, 20, were charged more than one month later. Tori’s remains were later found in a field more than 100 kilometres north of Woodstock.
McClintic pleaded guilty to first-degree murder last April, and was sentenced to life in prison.
Rafferty, dressed in a dark grey suit and tie, and cleanly shaven with neatly cropped hair, was in court Monday for a pre-trial motion. He watched the proceedings impassively from the prisoner’s dock surrounded by Plexiglas.
He did not attempt to make eye contact with Tori’s family and their friends in the courtroom.
Rafferty did smile as he chatted briefly with one of his lawyers, a fact not lost on Stafford, who thought the levity inappropriate.
Stafford, 35, said he was managing the emotional toll of the case with the support of family and friends but said it was difficult waiting for the wheels of justice to finish turning.
“It’s almost two years into it now and it’s looking like it’s not going to start until next year,” he said.
“It’s dragged out. I don’t know how other families have done it. It’s hard.”
McClintic’s plea was only made public in December after a Supreme Court of Canada decision partially lifted a veil of secrecy imposed on her case.
Despite media complaints, part of that publication ban remains in effect to preserve Rafferty’s constitutional right to a fair trial.
As a result, prosecution and defence arguments about where the trial might eventually be held remain under a publication ban.
“The Crown will be consenting that the matter concerning Mr. Rafferty be heard in a county other than Oxford,” prosecutor Brian Crockett told court Monday.
Crockett told Ontario Superior Court Justice Thomas Heeney that the “proper administration of justice” demanded the trial be moved given the intense publicity surrounding the case.
The move away from Woodstock was not a reflection on their ability to try the case, Crockett added.
Stafford said he understood that prosecutors have to “go by the book,” but said the pre-trial machinations were sometimes hard to swallow.
He said he just wanted the case decided, saying “it sucks” dealing with the delays.
“It’s hard for me to not voice my opinion sitting in there,” he said.
“How does somebody get the right to make the choices to take it to here or there or wherever when Victoria left from school that day not being able to make the choice to go home.”
At the same time, Stafford conceded, Rafferty would not be able to get a fair trial in Woodstock given the glare of publicity.
He did say every parent whose child goes missing should attempt to make it as big of a story as possible in hopes of getting their loved one home safely.