News

Rafferty jury visits crime scene

Randy Richmond, QMI Agency

MOUNT FOREST, Ont. -- At first glance, the first resting place of Victoria (Tori) Stafford appears serene and beautiful.

Over the meandering creek where a redwing blackbird calls, up the laneway past the red dogwood, green fir trees and ridge of field stones, in a chapel of evergreens, her body lay.

How the eight-year-old girl got there was, of course, neither serene nor beautiful.

That is why a jury, lawyers, court officials, a judge and journalists walked over that creek and up the laneway and to the evergreens Monday.

The Crown prosecuting Michael Rafferty for the first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual assault causing bodily harm of the Woodstock, Ont., girl wanted jurors to see the place where her body was found and where, the Crown claims, she was raped and killed.

Rafferty, 31, has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

His ex-girlfriend, Terri-Lynne McClintic, 21, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and admitted she snatched Tori off the street after school April 8, 2009.

In descriptions to police, entered as evidence, and in additional testimony at Rafferty's trial, McClintic provided details about the laneway where she said Tori was raped and killed:

-- The laneway sat across a road from a nice bungalow, with an arched doorway and at an angle to the road.

-- The laneway dipped over a ditch or creek, the water running through metal tubes, then rose and near the crest, turned to the left.

-- Rafferty parked the car by a rock pile near that bend.

-- McClintic wandered away several times, toward a fence. She could see silos in the distance but had a clear view of the rock pile where Rafferty assaulted Tori. Rafferty told McClintic once to check for cars and she wandered to a spot where she could see the road.

-- The two tossed Tori's body, covered in garbage bags, at the spot near the end of the rock pile away from the laneway, under a pine tree.

To see that scene for themselves, the jury of nine women and three men left London by bus about 9:30 a.m. Monday and arrived at 9450 Conc. 6 Rd. N. just south of Mount Forest by noon.

Court officials, lawyers, Justice Thomas Heeney and Rafferty arrived in separate vehicles. Rafferty was not allowed out of the vehicle but had audio communication with his lawyer.

The jury spent about 25 minutes at the site and journalists were allowed a half-hour to walk through the area after jurors had left.

Here's what jurors were asked to observe and what reporters could observe on their own later:

-- Yellow lettered markers in various places that matched letters in a guidebook with instructions.

-- At site A, jurors were asked to look across the road at a house. The house is a nice bungalow with an arched doorway that sits at an angle to the road.

-- At site B, halfway to the top of the laneway, jurors were asked to notice a creek and look up the laneway to a bend. The creek does indeed run through several metal tubes, or culverts.

-- At spot C, the bend at the top of the laneway, jurors were asked to look north to the rock pile and east for a fence if possible. The fence and rock pile were visible, the rock pile close.

-- At site D, the rock pile itself, jurors were told to look back toward the house. To reporters, it was clear the house could not be seen from the rock pile.

-- Site E marked an area near a fence east of the rock pile. Jurors were asked to look back northwest to the rock pile. The rock pile was visible, and it took this reporter 45 steps to walk the distance from fence to rock pile.

-- The next two sites were not marked in reality but only in the guidebook. To the north from the fence, jurors were told to look for silos, marked as F in their books. Those silos could be discerned, but not at a glance, through far away tree branches.

To the southwest, they were to look for more silos. Several silos rose above the treeline, easily spotted.

-- Finally, at site H, jurors were told to look to the north of the rock pile. When OPP Det. Staff Sgt. Jim Smyth found Tori's body July 19, 2009, he had to push lower branches aside and move one rock to make sure of his find.

On Monday, the lower branches and rocks were removed so jurors could get a clear view of where Tori's body was left.

Missing as well Monday were purple ribbons that adorned the two gateway evergreens not long after Tori's body was found.

Also missing was the rock.

At some point after Tori was found, the owner of the lane had placed that rock under the evergreens to commemorate the little girl.

Large, oblong, smooth and dark, it sat incongruously on the pile of field stones nearby.

A few hundred kilometres away, off another rural road, this one outside of Woodstock, sits another stone.

It is heart-shaped, with an angel resting on top. It is engraved with the name "Victoria 'Tori' Elizabeth Marie Stafford" and marks her final resting place.

randy.richmond@sunmedia.ca

@RandyRatLFPress