LONDON, Ont. — The horrifying details of the alleged abduction, sexual assault and murder of eight-year-old Victoria Stafford have been laid bare before a jury.
The trial of Michael Rafferty, 31, began Monday nearly three years after the Grade 3 student disappeared outside her elementary school in Woodstock, Ont.
Rafferty has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and kidnapping. Terri-Lynne McClintic, 21, has already been convicted of first-degree murder in the girl’s death.
On Monday the Crown presented its opening statement, telling the jury they’ll call expert evidence that Tori died from multiple hammer blows to the head. Crown attorney Kevin Gowdey warned the jury it would be a difficult story for them to hear.
Tori was found naked from the waist down, wearing only her Hannah Montana T-shirt and her mother’s butterfly earrings, the jury heard.
The pathologist found she’d suffered blows that lacerated her liver and fractured her ribs, which likely happened before the fatal hammer blows to her skull, Gowdey added.
It’s not the jury’s job to determine who wielded the hammer, but to decide whether Rafferty and McClintic “acted together,” he said.
Rafferty, wearing a grey suit and a blue-striped tie, sat expressionless as he listened to the Crown describe the alleged events of the day Tori went missing — April 8, 2009.
Her body was found three months later.
Superior Court Judge Thomas Heeney gave his instructions to the jury Monday morning, telling the nine women and three men there will be evidence presented “that many people would consider to be graphic and disturbing.”
He also cautioned them that the Crown’s opening statement should not be taken as evidence.
Outside court earlier Monday, her father Rodney Stafford said it’s hard for him to be in the same room as the man accused of killing his daughter, and he hopes Tori’s name will be remembered more than the man in the prisoner’s dock.
“It’s not about Rafferty, it’s about the little girl who lost her life,” he said, carefully choosing his words because the trial is underway.
“It’s heartbreaking because there’s nothing you can do or say without ruining the potential, what’s going to come of this . . . It’s ridiculous.”
After the morning break, media and spectators were asked to clear the courtroom. Court was resumed at 1:30 p.m. with an in-camera hearing..
The Crown’s opening statement began after that hearing.
Stafford said it’s been a struggle for her family to cope with their loss.
“Up, down, all over the place. It’s hard to explain,” Rodney Stafford said outside court. “You can’t even put it into words because from one minute to another you’re all over the place. One song could change your total demeanour from being positive to a . . . whimpering fool. It’s not like I want to be like this.”
His brother Rob Stafford and mother Doreen Graichen were also in the courtroom. Graichen said it’s hard, but it’s a relief the day has finally come.
“Hopefully we can put it aside, get through it, step by step, day by day, get it over with and maybe we can finally start to heal,” she said outside court.
During the trial, the jury is set to visit the site where Tori’s body was found.
Jury selection took place last week and 12 people were selected to serve, along with two alternates who will be dismissed once the evidence starts if they aren’t needed to fill in.
Rafferty’s lawyer Dirk Derstine says the allegations are horrible, but he is urging everyone to keep an open mind until all the evidence is heard. Jurors have been told the trial is expected to last between 2 1/2 and three months, possibly extending into June.
Tori’s disappearance and death garnered a lot of media attention from coast to coast, so potential jurors were asked a series of questions about whether they had heard about the case in the media, if they had formed any opinion about Rafferty’s guilt or innocence and if they thought they could be unbiased, judging the case only on the evidence.
A pretrial motion was heard before jury selection dealing with where Rafferty would sit during the trial. Accused people are sometimes allowed to sit at the counsel table with their lawyers instead of in the dock, which is traditionally where they sit.
The court decided that due to evidence from an officer in charge of court security that “the nature and history of this case requires a high level of security,” and other factors, Rafferty would sit in the dock.