WOODSTOCK, Ont. — The accused killer of eight-year-old Tori Stafford was remanded in custody until April on Tuesday amid uncertainty as to where his first-degree murder trial will be held.
Following two days of pre-trial hearings, most of which were covered by a publication ban, the only certainty that emerged was that Michael Rafferty will not be tried in the town in which Tori was kidnapped and killed.
Cities such as neighbouring London are now under consideration to try Rafferty, 35, in the abduction and killing of the Grade 3 student, who was snatched on her way home from school in Woodstock, Ont., in April 2009.
Defence concerns over pre-trial publicity prejudicing Rafferty’s right to a fair trial in Woodstock prompted the request to change venues.
While the Crown consented to the move, it was adamant the agreement did not amount to conceding that the 30,000-plus citizens of Woodstock were incapable of forming an unbiased jury in this case.
“It has nothing to do with the view that a fair and impartial trial cannot be held in this county,” prosecutor Brian Crockett said.
The Crown indicated that it was not advocating for any particular trial venue.
The publication ban confirmed Tuesday precludes publishing any details of the arguments made concerning where the trial would be held.
Defence lawyer Dirk Derstine said his client was looking forward to his day in court.
“There’s a presumption of innocence,” said Derstine, who added it was unlikely the trial would happen this year.
Normally, local citizens try local crimes, but venue changes can be sought in cases where adverse publicity might have tainted a potential jury pool.
Ontario Superior Court Justice Thomas Heeney indicated he would rule on motion regarding trial location within about two weeks.
Rafferty’s co-accused, Terri-Lynne McClintic, has already been convicted of first-degree murder in Tori’s kidnapping and death in a case that traumatized her southwestern Ontario community.
Her body was only found months after her disappearance.
Rafferty is scheduled to next appear via video link April 18, although that date might be moved up.
Some media groups are fighting the extensive publication ban related to Rafferty’s case.
McClintic’s guilty plea last April was also subject to a ban — one that kept news of the plea and her life sentence from the public for some seven months.
That information was only made public in December after a Supreme Court of Canada decision partially lifted a veil of secrecy imposed on her case.
The ban raised hackles across the country when it was imposed, with front-page newspaper editorials lambasting it as going too far.
Part of the McClintic ban remains in effect to preserve Rafferty’s constitutional right to a fair trial.