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Michael Rafferty Verdict: Guilty On All Counts

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Eight-year-old girl Tori Stafford was murdered in May 2009.
Eight-year-old girl Tori Stafford was murdered in May 2009.

LONDON, Ont. - Victoria Stafford's father clutched her Grade 3 school picture — taken the day before his little girl was abducted, sexually assaulted and brutally murdered — and he held it above the jostling cameras after one of Tori's killers was brought to justice for the terrible crime.

"It was all for this little girl right here," Rodney Stafford said, holding back tears. "Not just Tori, but for every little child in Canada that doesn't deserve what happened to her."

GALLERY: THE TRIAL, IN PHOTOS

Michael Rafferty, 31, who spent much of his trial rolling his eyes at evidence or muttering to himself, was far less animated late Friday night after a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and kidnapping. Rafferty simply closed his eyes, sat down, and leaned his head against the wall of the prisoner's box.

His sentencing is scheduled to begin next Tuesday.

A life behind bars now awaits Rafferty — first-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years. It's the same fate Terri-Lynne McClintic, the other half of the "murderous duo," as the Crown called them, accepted two years ago when she pleaded guilty to first-degree murder.

Evidence that was kept from the jury about Rafferty's sordid sexual appetites, past bickering amongst members of Tori's family, and lingering questions about whether Rafferty or McClintic dealt the death blows, all faded away as the last known photo of Tori was raised above the din of the post-verdict courthouse commotion.

"I wanted to scream, scream something in the courtroom, but we just couldn't do it," Rodney Stafford said. "Happy, excitement, but at the same time there was a sense of loss because Tori's not coming home. But we got it. We got the justice."

It has been a long road for Tori's family filled not with ups and downs but rather plummets and plateaus. The first hours and days after Tori vanished at 3:32 p.m. on April 8, 2009, were filled with panic. The days then turned into weeks with no real news, until the family's worst fears were confirmed on May 19, when police told them 18-year-old McClintic had confessed, and that Tori was dead.

It would be two more months of being told that Tori was dead, but having no body to fully convince them, especially her father. Then on July 19, a police officer finally found Tori's badly beaten and severely decomposed remains, wrapped in garbage bags and buried under a pile of rocks in a secluded farmer's field near Mount Forest, Ont.

The body had been hidden about 130 kilometres from Tori's home in Woodstock, Ont., where she was last captured on surveillance video, walking away from school with a slight bounce in her step, and McClintic at her side.

Little more than a year after McClintic lured Tori to her death she pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and revealed sickening details about what she said Rafferty did to the child. The courtroom was packed with family, investigators and reporters, but the veil of secrecy the judge imposed to ensure a fair trial for Rafferty prevented even a whisper of the proceedings from being published.

About seven months after Tori's family heard the awful details of her last hours, the publication ban was partially lifted, and the circumstances surrounding her abduction, as well as McClintic's admitted involvement, became public information.

Then, on March 5 of this year Rafferty's trial began, and the Stafford family had to suffer through agonizing testimony that returned them to their darkest days. Many of them sat through the entire trial, bearing witness to the details of Tori's brutal last moments.

It was alleged that Rafferty's sexual gratification was the motive for murder, but the jury didn't know there was evidence that he had sought out child pornography videos and made dozens of searches for images of violent child rape.

Months of decomposition also destroyed any hope of finding scientific evidence of rape. But the jurors still concluded that Tori, who was found naked from the waist down with most of her ribs fractured and her skull shattered by hammer blows, had been sexually assaulted.

McClintic told the trial a horrifying story of a drug-addled couple abducting a young girl at random for the man's sexual pleasure, then killing her with almost inconceivable brutality.

The Crown suggested Rafferty used McClintic, who was no stranger to violence but also desperate to believe she had finally found a good man, as a pawn to do his perverse bidding.

McClintic testified relatively early in the trial, and though much of it was interrupted by various legal motions, her story was still gut-churning. Her cross-examination revealed a chilling side to the "bloodthirsty" young woman when Rafferty's lawyer read several letters McClintic wrote to a jailhouse friend in which she detailed her fantasies about torturing people.

Rafferty himself remained largely an enigma to the jury, as the only glimpse of his personality came toward the end of the trial when a stream of former girlfriends took the stand. Twenty-two women from Rafferty's past, including 15 women he dated in the spring of 2009, were called to testify about various things he said and the state of his car.

If the sheer volume of past girlfriends didn't shock the jury, testimony from the longest serving girlfriend certainly might have. Charity Spitzig, a mother of four, said that in the six months before he was arrested in May 2009, she gave Rafferty $16,835.

Though the Crown explained without the jury present that Spitzig had been instructed not to say where the money came from, she nevertheless testified that she earned it working as an escort.

And while that was just the tip of the iceberg of information police had reflecting Rafferty in a very poor light, it was all the jury actually heard.

Heeney ruled the search of Rafferty's laptop unconstitutional, so jurors did not know there was evidence that he'd done Internet searches for "real underage rape," "nude preteen," and other queries suggestive of a sexual interest in children. They also didn't know that police found evidence Rafferty had downloaded "substantial" amounts of child pornography and snuff films, including one with a title indicating it involved a child.

A lot of material deemed "bad character" evidence was kept from the jurors because of the legal principle that just because someone is a bad person, it doesn't necessarily mean they committed the offence in question.

A woman Rafferty met online alleged in a police report that he drugged, choked and raped her, but he was never charged. In fact, several of his dates said Rafferty had a penchant for sexual choking. Some also complained of his "disconcerting" behaviour toward their children, the Crown said.

No one will ever know whether the jurors believed it was Rafferty or McClintic who wielded the hammer, whether they thought the abduction was random or targeted, or whether the sequence of events was planned — but the end result was the same for Tori.

The eight-year-old wearing her mom's butterfly earrings was unwittingly led to her death on that sunny April day with a skip in her step.

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The Tori Stafford Trial, In Photos
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