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Michael Rafferty Trial: Jurors Heard That Suspect Was Constantly Checking News After Stafford's Disappearance

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MICHAEL RAFFERTY PHOTO
Michael Rafferty is shown in a police handout photo released as court exhibits at Rafferty's trial in London, Ont., Thursday, April 5, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO | cp

LONDON, Ont. - In the days following Victoria Stafford's disappearance, the man accused of killing her began dating new women and worked on his beat-up car, but he was also obsessively checking the news for updates about the eight-year-old's abduction, court heard Thursday.

Several women were called to testify at Michael Rafferty's trial about when exactly they may or may not have seen his car's back seat — on which he allegedly sexually assaulted Tori — which was missing by the time he was arrested.

THE TRIAL, IN PHOTOS

But they also painted a picture of Rafferty's relationships with women, which were mostly brief yet constantly overlapping and often began online. Court has so far heard about at least seven women he dated through the spring of 2009.

One of those women was Terri-Lynne McClintic, now 21, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in Tori's death and implicated Rafferty. McClintic testified she kidnapped Tori at Rafferty's urging on April 8, 2009, and he raped the girl before she killed her. McClintic had previously told police Rafferty was the one who killed Tori.

She also testified that on the drive back to Woodstock, Ont., after leaving Tori's body in a farmer's field, Rafferty got her to cut out stained sections of the back seat, where McClintic said the sexual assault took place. She threw the pieces of fabric and foam out the window along the highway, McClintic testified.

Rafferty, 31, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and kidnapping.

His 2003 Honda Civic, blue with an uneven coat of black spray paint, was missing the bench portion of the back seat when he was arrested May 19. Just when it was removed was the subject of conflicting testimony Thursday.

Women who dated Rafferty in March testified his car had a back seat and women he was dating in April and May noticed his car had no back seat.

Four former neighbours of Rafferty from Woodstock, Ont., testified they saw the back seat of his car out on his lawn in mid-April for a garbage pickup.

Mike Griswold, who lived near Rafferty and his mother, said the back seat was in the car when he helped move Rafferty from Guelph, Ont., to Woodstock in 2008 and in early spring 2009 when he told Rafferty to turn down the music in his car.

Then Griswold noticed the seat sitting in front of the Rafferty household for garbage pickup about April 15, along with a piece of foam. It had a straight cut in one side, he said.

Under cross-examination by Rafferty's lawyer, Dirk Derstine, Griswold also recalled that he had told police he saw Rafferty take the seat out on March 29, 2009, to install large speakers, and that Rafferty put it in his backyard shed.

Melanie LaBute, 39, who went out with Rafferty a few times in March 2009 testified she believed there was a back seat in his car then. He asked her out at the Staples store where she worked by saying he was new in town and wondered if she knew of any good restaurants, she testified.

They played pool with some of LaBute's friends a few days later and when he drove her home that night she said his car looked dirty, that it was littered with Tim Hortons coffee cups and had blankets draped over the back seat.

"It just made me think of somebody who lived inside their car," she said.

Rafferty picked LaBute up again the next morning and tried to take her out for breakfast, but he got lost, though it didn't matter to LaBute at that time because she said she had already decided she wasn't interested.

"He just seemed really needy to me," she testified. "He did end up calling...He had just asked, 'Why haven't you called me? Is there something wrong?'"

LaBute decided to break things off in person, and that was the last time she saw Rafferty, a few days later in March, she said.

Alexis Lane, 30, testified Wednesday that she and Rafferty dated for a few weeks between late February and April 1, and that his car did have a back seat when she last saw him on March 23.

Sarah Hodge, 31, started chatting with Rafferty on the dating website Plenty of Fish in late March and first met up with him in person on April 14, she testified. The relationship lasted about two weeks but they saw each other every day, she said. During that time he was obsessed with the story of Victoria Stafford, she said.

"He was constantly checking the news for it," Hodge said. "If it was on TV he'd turn on the TV and watch it or if I had the newspaper he would pull it out and read it as well."

Rafferty also told her he had "all the inside information" on the case, including details about the custody of Tori. Hodge and Rafferty also had conversations that he initiated about kidnapping children, she said.

Hodge also noted that Rafferty was taking OxyContin at the time, saying "he thought he had colon cancer," though he kept the pills in unmarked bottles or balled up in tinfoil in his pocket. She too saw no back seat in his car.

Yet another woman, whose name can't be published, met Rafferty on April 12 after chatting online on Plenty of Fish and dated him until his arrest. Rafferty, who normally shows little animation or emotion in the prisoners' box, smiled during the woman's testimony, and carefully watched his other ex-girlfriends walk in and out of the courtroom.

The only time the woman was in his car was on May 3, when he parked in her driveway and installed speaker mounts, she said, and there was no back seat.

Tamarra Moore, 29, who met Rafferty online in 2003 and became friends with him, testified that his car was missing the back seat when he visited her in Guelph, Ont., on May 7.

McClintic was arrested well before Rafferty, on April 12, 2009, on an unrelated matter after she caught the attention of police early on in the Tori Stafford investigation. Rafferty's name wasn't on the radar until May, court has heard, and when they did a cursory interview with him on May 15 he distanced himself from McClintic. It was around that time that Rafferty mentioned the names of the other women, court has heard.

But Hodge and the woman who can't be identified told a different story about Rafferty's relationship with McClintic. They both testified that he was worried about her well-being in jail, frequently visiting McClintic and attending her court appearance on the other charge.

Rafferty also told the unnamed woman McClintic had been questioned in Tori's disappearance and that he had been questioned as well, because of his association with McClintic.

"When it came to him being questioned he seemed sort of upset about that," she said. "He seemed upset for this young woman that he was friends with. He felt that she had been making good strides in her life and felt that this was not something appropriate, I guess, or it wasn't fair."

The Tori Stafford Trial, In Photos
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