The jury’s verdict was a win for every little girl in Canada, Tori Stafford’s dad said.
Holding a picture of his daughter outside the courthouse, Rodney Stafford addressed the media after Michael Rafferty was found guilty of first-degree murder, kidnapping, and sexual assault causing bodily harm.
“I wanted to scream, scream something in the courtroom … happy excitement. But at that same time there’s a sense of loss,” Stafford said, his voice breaking, “cause Tori’s not coming home. But we got it. We got the justice.”
Stafford emerged from the courthouse to wild cheers and car horns honking.
His mother, Doreen Graichen, said the verdict made it feel “like I can breathe again.”
“What we’ve been feeling inside for the past three years has been hell. This has been a release for us. It’s just amazing,” Graichen said.
Tori’s mother, Tara McDonald, walked through the crush of media without commenting on the verdict.
Less than 30 minutes before, family members gasped and sobbed as the jury delivered the verdict Friday night.
Rafferty, 31, standing and leaning on the inside railing of the prisoners dock, closed his eyes briefly but showed no expression on his face as he listened to the verdict.
At least two jury members cried after the verdict was read. As court broke up, police officers cried and hugged each other and members of Tori’s family.
The nine-woman, three-man jury delivered its verdict at 9:30 p.m.
The verdict means an automatic life sentence for Rafferty, 31.
Tori was a bubbly, bright girl — “a diva tomboy,” her family called her — who disappeared while walking home April 8, 2009, from her school in Woodstock. Her body was found July 19, 2009, under a rock pile near Mount Forest, Ont.
Earlier, Rafferty’s former girlfriend, 21-year-old Terri-Lynne McClintic, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and is serving a life sentence. In statements to police, she said Rafferty was the one who killed Tori with a hammer after raping her.
But on the stand, McClintic changed her story and said she was the one who bludgeoned Tori to death.
The jury started its deliberations Thursday and returned to court several times with questions, including whether removing a child’s underwear during unlawful confinement was sexual assault.
The jury also returned to the courtroom Friday to view McClintic’s Interview with police in which she gave graphic details of the sexual assault and killing on a farm lane near Mount Forest.
Outside court, a calm and composed Dirk Derstine said his client was disappointed by the outcome of the trial, but wouldn’t divulge what the 31-year-old — now facing a life sentence in prison — told him after the verdict was read.
Nor would the defence lawyer say whether he thought having his client testify would have changed the outcome of the trial.
Still, Derstine took the opportunity to defend his decision to take Rafferty’s case, which came under a national spotlight for 10 weeks.
“The reality of it is that everybody in our system deserves a strong, proper and effective defence,” he said.
When asked if he plans to appeal the sentence, Derstine replied, “That’s Mr. Rafferty’s decision.”
Crown attorney Kevin Gowdey said justice was served.
“It’s really a day of mixed emotion. It’s been a long and difficult trial for everyone. The trial is finally over, so that’s a good thing.” Gowdey said. “But the verdict means that the jury has found that Michael Rafferty did kidnap, sexually assault and murder Victoria Stafford, and our thoughts are with Victoria’s family.”
A sentencing hearing is planned for Tuesday to give Tori’s family a chance to give victim impact statements.
Timeline of events:
April 8, 2009: Tori Stafford, 8, leaves Oliver Stephens elementary school on Fyfe Ave. in Woodstock, Ont., after school. Shortly after 6 p.m. she is reported missing to police.
May 19, 2009: Terri-Lynne McClintic and Michael Rafferty are arrested.
July 19, 2009: Police discover human remains, believed to be that of the little girl, near Mount Forest and notify her parents.
April 30, 2010: McClintic pleads guilty to first-degree murder and is sentenced to life in prison.
March 5, 2012: Rafferty’s trial begins. The 31-year-old pleads not guilty to first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual assault causing bodily harm.
March 13, 2012: McClintic takes the stand and claims she “savagely murdered that little girl.” Graphic details of Tori’s last moments are revealed.
April 2, 2012: Jury, court officials, Rafferty and media visit the remote field where Tori’s body was found.
April 3, 2012: Jurors see graphic autopsy photos and hear forensic evidence of how Tori died from hammer blows to the head after being kicked and stomped.
April 26, 2012: Crown puts together clips of surveillance video to show Rafferty’s route April 8, 2009. The Crown wraps the case, calling 61 witnesses and introducing 186 exhibits.
May 1, 2012: Rafferty doesn’t testify in his own defence. His lawyer calls one witness, a parent who says she saw what might have been McClintic.
May 7, 2012: Defence presents closing arguments, saying Rafferty had no idea anything was wrong until it was too late and was led by McClintic, a violent liar.
May 9, 2012: Crown finishes two days of closing arguments, calling Rafferty and McClintic a “dangerous duo,” but branding Rafferty as the mastermind.
May 10, 2012: Justice Thomas Heeney charges the jury. Jurors are sequestered to reach a verdict.
May 11, 2012: Jury reaches a verdict, finding Rafferty guilty of first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual assault causing bodily harm.
May 15, 2012: Rafferty to be sentenced to life in prison.