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Parents of slain Woodstock girl relieved after appeal by killer dismissed

By Randy Richmond, The London Free Press

TORONTO - 

The family of Victoria (Tori) Stafford waited anguished hours for her to return home after school April 8, 2009.

They waited 42 days to learn she had been killed, when a man named Michael Rafferty was charged with murder.

They waited 102 days to find out where her body had been abandoned, about a year for co-accused Terri-Lynne McClintic to plead guilty to first-degree murder, and three years for Rafferty to go on trial and be convicted of kidnapping, rape and first-degree murder.

Only now, seven years and 199 days after Tori didn’t come home, can the family finally feel the waiting is over and Tori is at rest.

Rafferty’s appeal of his murder conviction was suddenly dismissed by the Ontario Court of Appeal after the panel of three judges listened to about two hours of arguments from his lawyer Monday.

“Tori is finally in peace. I feel like a ton of weight is off our chests,” her mother Tara McDonald messaged The London Free Press.

“Daryn (her son), James (her partner) and I want to thank the appeal judges, the Crown and all of the people who worked so hard for our baby girl. From the media to the chief of police and the public for always keeping my daughter in their hearts, thank you.”

Her former partner and Tori’s father, Rodney Stafford, expressed similar relief.

“In a sense, yes we can move forward . . . and he can go back and rot,” Stafford said. “It’s over with.”

The two parents were joined by about a dozen family and friends, some dressed in Tori’s favourite colour, purple, in the courtroom.

Family and friends applauded and hugged after Court of Appeal Justice John Laskin made a simple announcement, promising to provide written reasons later: “The appeal will be dismissed.”

Tori disappeared while walking home from school in Woodstock April 8, 2009.

Rafferty was convicted of kidnapping, rape and first-degree murder in a 2012 trial in London presided by Justice Thomas Heeney.

McClintic was the main Crown witness at the trial.

Immersed in a life of crime and violence, her character and her contradicting statements about what happened with Tori and her then-boyfriend Rafferty formed the basis of the legal arguments that Rafferty did not get a fair trial.

His lawyer, Paul Calarco, argued for two hours Monday that the trial judge made four legal errors.

Heeney did not give a sharp enough warning about McClintic’s testimony when he charged the jury, Calarco argued.

He also argued the trial judge should have given the jury an option that Rafferty was only an accessory after the fact, did not properly handle McClintic’s contradictions, and did not charge the jury properly about Rafferty’s conduct after the killing.

As the morning wore on, it became apparent the Appeal Court judges had serious reservations about the arguments.

“What is a poor trial judge to do here?” Justice Laskin asked Calarco during one of the many complex debates about warning a jury.

“There was a whole catalogue of evidence put before the jury,” he added a few minutes later.

Shortly before noon, Calarco finished by stating that “only a new trial can correct these errors.”

Laskin announced a short break to allow the court to consider Calarco’s arguments before the Crown began its arguments.

A few minutes after reconvening, Laskin announced the appeal was dismissed, before the Crown argued.

“We received a very fair hearing from the court. There’s active questioning. That’s very standard in appeals,” Calarco told reporters after the hearing. “I have no complaints about the hearing we received.”

Asked if there were any grounds to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada, Calarco said, “I can’t speculate on that.”