MURDER: Denied legal aid, convicted killer tries new route

Convicted child killer Michael Rafferty hoping taxpayers bankroll lawyer for appeal

By Randy Richmond, The London Free Press

Michael Rafferty. (Handout)

Michael Rafferty. (Handout)

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Michael Rafferty has been denied one way to get taxpayers to fund the appeal of his conviction in the kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of an eight-year-old girl.

So he’s trying another.

Sentenced to life last May for the first-degree murder of Victoria ‘Tori’ Stafford in 2009, Rafferty was denied legal aid to hire a lawyer in November, the Ontario Court of Appeal confirmed Friday.

But the court also confirmed Rafferty has since made an application aimed at getting a lawyer.

Rafferty made an application under Section 684 of the Cri minal Code that “in the interests of justice” the province hire him a lawyer.

That application is in the early stages and Rafferty is far from getting an answer to his request.But the legal wranglings don’t sit well with Tori’s mother, Tara McDonald.

“He’s already wasted enough of the courts’ time, as well as taxpayers’ money,” she said. “He was given a more-than-fair trial, and now is grasping at desperate straws.”

A rough estimate from a criminal lawyer put Rafferty’s legal fees for the appeal, at the lowest rates available, at $70,000.

Legal Aid Ontario doesn’t comment on specific cases, but a spokesperson said applications for help in appeal cases go to a committee of experienced trial lawyers to assess.

That committee evaluates the likelihood of the appeal’s success and makes a recommendation.

In other words, Legal Aid Ontario handicaps the chances of success and, in Rafferty’s case, didn’t like those chances.

“They decide if it’s worth the bet,” criminal lawyer Paul Burstein said of the Legal Aid process.

“Legal Aid authorities are basically interested in how they can stretch their limited budget, so they make some judgment calls,” said Burstein, past-president of Canada’s Criminal Lawyers Association.

That’s forcing more accused people to go the route of Section 684, which killer Paul Bernardo used to get a lawyer for his appeal, Burstein said.

That section says a lawyer may be hired “where, in the opinion of the court or judge, it appears desirable in the interests of justice that the accused should have legal assistance and where it appears that the accused has not sufficient means to obtain that assistance.”

It’s unlikely Rafferty has sufficient means to pay for a lawyer.

At the time of his arrest, Rafferty lived with his mother and, although he billed himself as a dance instructor and construction worker, was trying to set up an escort business with one employee.

If Rafferty is successful in his application, the Ministry of the Attorney General — in effect, taxpayers — would hire him a lawyer under similar rates provided by legal aid.

Tori Stafford was abducted outside her Woodstock school in April 2009 and her battered body was found that summer buried beneath a pile of rocks near Mount Forest.

After a 10-week trial, Rafferty was convicted May 11, 2012, of kidnapping, sexual assault and murder and sentenced to life in prison May 15. Terri-Lynne McClintic, Rafferty’s former girlfriend, is also serving a life sentence for the murder after pleading guilty in April 2010.

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Michael Rafferty’s attempt to use Section 684 of the Criminal Code of Canada to get a free lawyer will be heard June 10, a Court of Appeal spokesperson says.

At that hearing, it may be decided if a lawyer should first make a limited 684 application — basically a preliminary assessment to see if Rafferty qualifies for a free lawyer.

The Crown would then decide to oppose or accept that limited 684 application.