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Michael Rafferty Trial: Crown Wraps Case With Video Analyst

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MICHAEL RAFFERTY TRIAL
Media wait outside the courthouse as Rodney Stafford, father of Tori Stafford arrives. | CP

LONDON, Ont. - The car allegedly used to abduct Victoria Stafford was an assortment of poorly installed or oddly fashioned modifications, and it was those unique features the Crown used Thursday to link to video of a car repeatedly driving past Tori's school as the last evidence in its case.

After eight weeks, 61 witnesses and 186 exhibits, the Crown concluded its case Thursday against Michael Rafferty. It will be in the defence's hands on Tuesday.

The last images Crown attorneys left the jury with were all the relevant surveillance footage collected, largely from April 8, 2009, the day Tori vanished outside her elementary school in Woodstock, Ont.

On that day, a car believed to be Rafferty's is seen driving past Oliver Stephens Public School at 9:04 a.m. It is seen there again at 3:05 p.m.

It is at a nearby gas station at 3:20 p.m., then drives by the school one last time at 3:30 p.m. A car believed to be the same one pulls into the parking lot of a retirement home up the street.

Two minutes later, Rafferty's girlfriend Terri-Lynne McClintic walks past the same spot with Tori. They're seen on video crossing the street and entering the retirement home parking lot.

One minute later, a tiny image of a car believed to be Rafferty's can be seen driving away from that area.

The car alleged to be Rafferty's arrives 1 1/2 hours later at a Home Depot parking lot in Guelph, Ont. A person wearing a white top gets out of the car and walks toward a neighbouring gas station. Rafferty, wearing a white shirt, is captured on the gas station's interior camera walking toward the ATM, and records show he withdrew $80.

The person wearing white returns to the car in question and it drives closer in the parking lot to the Home Depot. McClintic hops out of the passenger side of the car, goes into the store, purchases garbage bags and a hammer — the murder weapon — then returns to the car.

The last shot is the car pulling out of the vast parking lot and heading toward the highway.

The Crown alleges Rafferty then drove north to a rural area, where there were no more surveillance cameras to capture his movements, and it was in a secluded farmer's field that Tori was raped and killed.

The surveillance camera footage largely accords with McClintic's version of events from that day — she would later confess and is now serving a life sentence for first-degree murder.

But as their last witness the Crown looked to Gerald Lanna, a forensic video analyst with the Ontario Provincial Police, for more certainty about what is seen on the footage.

The best quality video of the car, at the first gas station at 3:20 p.m., left Lanna with the most certainty. The blotchy black paint job over most of the blue car, the whitewashed interior, the dark rims, the rear spoiler and the off-centre air intake on the hood of the car were several features of Rafferty's 2003 Honda Civic that match those on the video.

"To me, I would have to say that that's our vehicle," Lanna testified.

In the other videos, where the "vehicle of interest" drives past Tori's school three times and where it waits for McClintic in the Home Depot parking lot, detail in the image was lacking, so the best Lanna could say was that he could find no differences between Rafferty's car and the one on the video.

Police went to Honda to ask about the "hood scoop" or air intake on the hood of Rafferty's car and discovered it was not a Honda option. The company said it would be "quite unusual" for a factory or dealer to install such a scoop because of its negative impact in crash tests, Lanna testified.

Rafferty's lawyer Dirk Derstine questioned Lanna in cross-examination about his conclusions, in particular the uniqueness of the features of Rafferty's car. Alone they would not be considered unique, but all together they make the car stand out, Lanna said. The "hood scoop" would be an especially rare feature, he said.

"If you open the hood of that vehicle ... it looks like it almost was self-installed," Lanna said. "I don't think a reputable dealer would put a hood scoop in like that...It was just put in by a person like me that doesn't have that type of skill."

Lanna determined the car on all three videos near the school is the same make of vehicle by laying the images over each other. He agreed under Derstine's sharp cross-examination that he could not say for certain that they are each the exact same car.

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

McClintic, who confessed to abducting Tori and implicated Rafferty in the murder, was the Crown's star witness, testifying over six days about what she says happened that day.

Up until the trial, McClintic maintained Rafferty killed Tori, but while she testified that she had actually killed the girl, other details of her story remained the same, such as saying that Rafferty urged her to kidnap a young girl and that he sexually assaulted Tori.

Crown attorney Kevin Gowdey told the nine women and three men of the jury in his opening address that it is not necessary for them to determine who exactly did what, but whether Rafferty and McClintic acted together to bring about the girl's death.

The trial, which began March 5, got off to an emotional start as Tori's Grade 3 teacher Jennifer Griffin-Murrell wept while describing the "lovely" little girl's last day at school, spent jumping in puddles and researching plants on a computer.

"She was a caring little girl, very sensitive," Griffin-Murrell told the trial two months ago. "She was kind of like a mother hen to a lot of the younger kids in the (the split Grade 2/3) class. She always wanted to help."

Griffin-Murrell said Tori was inquisitive, well-liked and was "obsessed" with the TV show "Hannah Montana."

Tori was wearing a "Hannah Montana" T-Shirt the day she died. When her remains were found 103 days later near Mount Forest, Ont., she was wearing nothing else.

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