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Michael Rafferty Tried For Tori Stafford Murder: Jury Hears 'Graphic And Disturbing' Evidence

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MICHAEL RAFFERTY TORI STAFFORD
Michael Rafferty, 31, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and kidnapping in the death of Tori Stafford, right. (At left: Michael Rafferty leaves the courthouse in Woodstock, Ont., Monday, Feb.7, 2011. By Dave Chidley/CP; centre: Rafferty is escorted from court in Woodstock in 2009, by Peter Power/The Globe and Mail) | CP/Globe And Mail

LONDON, Ont. - Eight-year-old Victoria Stafford's brutally beaten body, clad only in a Hannah Montana T-shirt, lay for 103 days in garbage bags under a pile of rocks far from home, a first-degree murder trial heard Monday.

There was a light covering of snow in the farmer's field where she was left on April 8, 2009, after being killed with several blows to the head with a hammer, a jury in London, Ont., was told in the Crown's opening statement. The snow was long gone by the time her badly decomposed remains, with a pair of butterfly earrings belonging to her mother, were found by a police officer on July 19.

Tori was snatched by Michael Rafferty and his girlfriend, Terri-Lynne McClintic, outside her elementary school and driven more than 100 kilometres away to an isolated area near Mount Forest, Ont., the Crown said. It was there that she died a violent death in a clearing surrounded by trees — around a bend, up a hill and down a gravel laneway off a rural road, court heard.

The Crown's horrifying account of the Grade 3 student's last hours, after she was grabbed outside her school in Woodstock, Ont., was laid out Monday.

Tori was abducted by Rafferty and McClintic, sexually assaulted and brutally beaten to death within the span of several hours, Crown attorney Kevin Gowdey told the jury. McClintic, 21, has already pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and is serving a life sentence.

Rafferty has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and kidnapping.

The jury was warned that over the course of the trial, expected to last 2 1/2 months, they will hear graphic and disturbing evidence. A pathologist will testify that Tori died from multiple blows to her head with a hammer. Blunt impacts to her body also lacerated her liver and fractured her ribs, Gowdey said. Her remains, not discovered for three months, were found naked from the waist down.

He told the jury it's not their job to determine who wielded the hammer, but to decide whether Rafferty and McClintic "acted together."

"In the end it is not necessary or essential that you determine exactly who did what, for example which of the two delivered the hammer blows to the skull or who inflicted the trauma to Tori's body that lacerated her liver, broke her ribs," Gowdey said.

Rafferty, wearing a grey suit and a blue-striped tie, sat expressionless as he listened to the Crown describe the alleged events of the day Tori went missing.

McClintic herself will be testifying soon, Gowdey said, about what led up to the kidnapping, what happened that day and how the pair tried to cover their tracks.

"When you have heard her evidence you will unquestionably be disturbed by the choices that she made with Michael Rafferty to bring this all about," Gowdey said. "I expect that her credibility will be a major issue in this case. It is because she had such a significant role in what happened that she's able to give us so much detail.

"Listen to her evidence carefully and cautiously."

Superior Court Judge Thomas Heeney gave his instructions to the jury Monday morning, telling the nine women and three men there will be evidence presented "that many people would consider to be graphic and disturbing."

He also cautioned them that the Crown's opening statement should not be taken as evidence.

After Rafferty and McClintic kidnapped Tori they drove with her to Guelph, Ont., where Rafferty bought a "large number" of percocets from a friend, then they drove to a Home Depot where McClintic bought a claw hammer and some garbage bags, Gowdey said.

Rafferty's movements that day can be traced with the help of cellphone towers, as he frequently used his BlackBerry, Gowdey added.

McClintic was arrested on April 12 on an unrelated matter after several tips came in suggesting she was a mystery woman wearing a white puffy jacket walking with Tori on surveillance footage from near Tori's school. After her arrest Rafferty frequently talked with her by phone and visited her at a detention centre, until he too was arrested on May 19, Gowdey said.

A search of both of their homes turned up Victoria Stafford missing posters in each, he said.

In McClintic's house police also found a script for what she should say if the police accused her of being the woman in the white jacket on the surveillance video, Gowdey said.

Testing on Rafferty's car revealed blood on one of the doors matched Tori's DNA with near certainty, and blood on a gym bag was found to have a mixture of DNA profiles, of which Tori and Rafferty cannot be excluded, Gowdey said.

Outside court earlier Monday, her father Rodney Stafford said it's hard for him to be in the same room as the man accused of killing his daughter, and he hopes Tori's name will be remembered more than the man in the prisoner's dock.

"It's not about Rafferty, it's about the little girl who lost her life," he said, carefully choosing his words because the trial is underway.

"It's heartbreaking because there's nothing you can do or say without ruining the potential, what's going to come of this ... It's ridiculous."

Rodney Stafford, his girlfriend, his mother and his brother were in court Monday. Tori's mother, Tara McDonald, will be called to testify, Gowdey said. She was at the courthouse Monday but not in the courtroom, as witnesses are not allowed to attend a trial before they testify.

After the morning break, media and spectators were asked to clear the courtroom. Court was resumed at 1:30 p.m. with an in-camera hearing, meaning only lawyers and the judge were present. The Crown's opening statement began after that hearing.

Rodney Stafford said it's been a struggle for the family to cope with their loss.

"Up, down, all over the place. It's hard to explain," Stafford said outside court. "You can't even put it into words because from one minute to another you're all over the place. One song could change your total demeanour from being positive to a ... whimpering fool. It's not like I want to be like this."

During the trial, the jury is set to visit the site where Tori's body was found.

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