Horror of trial will linger

Every once in a while, a crime is committed in this country that’s so horrible, it feels like the only fitting punishment would be the death penalty — if we had it.

Every once in a while, a crime is committed in this country that’s so horrible, it feels like the only fitting punishment would be the death penalty — if we had it.

The crime that is testing this country’s long-held opposition to capital punishment is the abduction, rape and first-degree murder of eight-year-old Victoria (Tori) Stafford.

On Friday evening, a jury convicted Michael Rafferty, 31, on all three charges. It was the right decision.

The 10-week court case wound through such disturbing testimony and details that it was a tough emotional read even for veteran journalists who are often called upon to document the worst in people.

With its terrible images, many news media carried an unusual “graphic content” warning with their coverage.

But nothing we could imagine or feel could compare to the horror and suffering that Tori — taken outside her Woodstock, Ont., school three years ago — endured before Rafferty, and his accomplice, Terri-Lynne McClintic, brutally killed her.

McClintic, 21, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder two years ago. Rafferty is to be sentenced today, although first-degree murder automatically carries a life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.

Victim impact statements will be given today in the London, Ont., court where the trial was held. Already Tori’s family has expressed relief with the verdict and they are happy that justice was served. But as her father Rodney Stafford said, “. . . at the same time there was a sense of loss because Tori’s not coming home.”

Canadians across the country feel the loss as well. No child should ever be taken as Tori was. No child should ever suffer as she did. These are our worst kind of crimes.

The case was the largest such investigation ever in Canada. That effort got the right results — the guilty have been caught, convicted and now incarcerated.

Tori disappeared on April 8, 2009. Her body — with 16 fractured ribs and a fractured skull — was eventually discovered in a field north of Woodstock, about three months later.

There was concern at one point about the jury not being allowed to hear evidence that suggested Rafferty had downloaded child pornography onto his laptop — something that would have likely helped the jury find Rafferty guilty.

As well, there was concern that Rafferty might not be convicted, because McClintic first said Rafferty killed Tori, and then changed her testimony to say she was the one who actually fatally struck Tori.

We had to trust the justice system would get it right. It did.

So now, because of the nature of the crime, the question arises: Should Canada bring back the death penalty?

Many would probably agree that the world would be a better place without Rafferty or McClintic.

But it’s not about vengeance — it’s about punishment. Twenty-five years in jail is a long hard time, especially if you have to be held away from the general prison population because your life may be in danger.

Tori’s killers may never walk the streets free. They may never get parole.

But we have ample cases where Canadians have been wrongfully convicted for murder. In these cases, justice only prevailed after they served a long time in prison. A death sentence would not have allowed that.

Capital punishment is just as wrong when it takes the life of an innocent person as those people who murder. In fact, not having the death penalty is what separates us from them — the worst in society.

Mary-Ann Barr is the Advocate’s assistant city editor. She can be reached by email at barr@bprda.wpengine.com, by phone at 403-314-4332 and on Twitter @maryannbarr1

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