Rafferty proclaims innocence at hearing

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Michael Rafferty finally spoke. But the courtroom offered no final sympathy.

Convicted of kidnapping, raping, and killing eight-year-old Victoria (Tori) Stafford of Woodstock, Rafferty stood in court Tuesday and proclaimed his innocence.

He then made the remarkable offer to sit down privately with Tori’s mother, Tara McDonald, to tell her all he knew.

"I am guilty of many crimes and there a lot of things I am very, very ashamed of, but these three counts I still stand firmly being not guilty," he said, speaking in a soft voice while standing in the prisoner’s dock, leaning on the inside rail.

He then looked at McDonald sitting in the front centre row of the courtroom.

"To Tara McDonald, for the past three years I’ve had so much to say on my behalf. Nobody has all the pieces of the puzzle and I’m willing to give you those pieces if you’d like that."

While he spoke, Tori’s grandmother, Doreen Graichen, grimaced and shook her head. Tori’s uncle, Rob Stafford, glared at him.

In court, Justice Thomas Heeney dismissed Rafferty’s innocence with more force and with words much harder than any gavel.

"You have snuffed out the life of a beautiful, talented, vivacious little girl, a tomboy diva in the trustful innocence of childhood. And for what? So that you could gratify your twisted and deviant desire to have sex with a child," Heeney said. "Only a monster could commit an act of such pure evil. You, sir, are a monster."

Outside court, Tori’s mother, Tara McDonald, curtly rejected Rafferty’s offer.

"That’s what psychos do . . . they try to control people. He’s still trying to control the situation and he doesn’t have control anymore," she said. "He’s wasted enough of our lives and he’s not going to waste any more. He was just trying to grasp at whatever straws were left."

Rafferty was formally sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years Tuesday for the first-degree murder of Tori on April 8, 2009, and 10 years each on the counts of kidnapping and sexual assault causing bodily harm. Arrested in May 2009, he didn’t confess to police and, in his 10-week trial, didn’t testify on his own behalf.

For the last time Tuesday he stood in the prisoner’s box, receiving a tie from lawyer Dirk Derstine. His face appeared more gaunt than usual, unshaven, and his eyes, almost cartoonishly beady, were hooded and red rimmed.

In a four- minute address to the family, Rafferty repeated three times he was not guilty of the charges. But he did admit playing a role.

"I do believe that I am a very definite part of why Victoria is not here today. Once again, I’m very sorry . . . not that . . . half of you or any of you will believe me," Rafferty said. "I know this has been a long ordeal for everybody and I’m glad that it’s come to an end. Hopefully everybody will find some closure of some sort to me being sentenced to life."

He told the family the victim impact statement from Tori’s brother, Daryn Stafford, hit him hardest.

"I can only imagine if something like that came from the mouth of my own son. I have lost a child before but I have no idea what you have gone through. I cannot imagine what you’ve gone through. For that I’m very sorry."

Sorry didn’t cut it with Heeney, who presided over a trial marked by disturbing testimony, a change in story from co-accused Terri-Lynne McClintic and criticism of his own work.

"Your crimes have destroyed the lives of Victoria Stafford’s parents, her brother, her extended family and her loved ones. They have terrorized an entire community, who had thought its children could safely walk its streets, little knowing that people such as you lurked among them," Heeney said.

Some newspaper columnists criticized Heeney for not allowing the jury to see evidence from Rafferty’s computer that showed he was interested in child pornography, and from Jan. 25 to April 7, 2009, searching for sites about underage rape.

Heeney ruled twice, once before the trial began and once during, that admitting the computer searches as evidence would not give Rafferty a fair trial.

"He has received a fair trial. Mr. Rafferty was not convicted based on his character, he was convicted based on his conduct," Heeney told court Tuesday.