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Michael Rafferty Trial In The Jury's Hands

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MICHAEL RAFFERTY CLOSING ARGUMENTS
Rebecca Nichols, aunt of slain Victoria (Tori) Stafford, speaks to the media outside the court at a break in proceedings at the Michael Rafferty murder trial. | CP

LONDON, Ont. - The fate of Michael Rafferty, accused of abducting eight-year-old Victoria Stafford for his sexual gratification before brutally killing her and hiding her body under a pile of rocks, is now in the hands of a jury.

WARNING: Graphic details from this court case may disturb some readers.

After listening to at times graphic and disturbing evidence from 62 witnesses over two months, nine women and three men are now deciding whether Rafferty, 31, is guilty of first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and kidnapping. He pleaded not guilty.

The jury began deliberating Thursday afternoon after being given final instructions by Superior Court Judge Thomas Heeney, who laid out for them many different ways they could reach various verdicts.

The jurors retired Thursday night and are to resume their deliberations Friday morning.

The trial was long and the instructions from Heeney were complex. Jurors saw 190 exhibits and heard varied evidence from dozens of experts, police officers and other witnesses, but Rafferty's ex-girlfriend Terri-Lynne McClintic ties it all together.

McClintic is already serving a life sentence after pleading guilty two years ago to first-degree murder in Tori's death. Over six days in March, she told court a horrifying story of a drug-addled couple abducting a young girl at random for the man's sexual pleasure, then killing her with inconceivable brutality.

McClintic claimed Rafferty was directing her every step of the way, ordering her to snatch a young girl for him, making her buy a hammer and garbage bags then getting her to help him clean up at the murder scene.

Certainly he was in control, the Crown suggested, alleging that in McClintic, he had finally found the perfect partner to do his perverse bidding. McClintic — no stranger to violence, with several assault convictions under her belt before 18 and a propensity to write out gruesome torture fantasies — was used by Rafferty as a violent pawn, the Crown alleged.

He wanted to have sex with a child and she was all too willing to comply for a little bit of love, the Crown argued. Perhaps, Crown lawyer Kevin Gowdey suggested, she was even willing to kill for him.

Perhaps, he said, she wasn't so oblivious about the fate that awaited the little girl.

From the time she confessed on May 19, 2009, until January of this year, McClintic maintained it had been Rafferty who killed Tori by repeatedly striking her in the head with a hammer.

But a few days before Rafferty's pre-trial, McClintic changed her story, testifying that after witnessing the rape, pent-up rage from her own childhood traumas caused her to snap, grabbing the hammer and killing the girl.

Gowdey was skeptical about the new version of events. Why, he wondered, would a fit of such unbridled homicidal rage include taking the time to tie a garbage bag over the victim's head before delivering the fatal blows?

The scenarios Heeney described, which will direct the jury's deliberations, turn on whether the jurors think Rafferty or McClintic killed Tori.

If they think Rafferty killed Tori himself and that it was planned and deliberate, he is guilty of first-degree murder, Heeney said. If they think Rafferty killed Tori himself and that a kidnapping or sexual assault was part of the same series of events as the murder, he is guilty of first-degree murder, he continued.

If they believe Rafferty intended to help or encourage McClintic to kill Tori knowing she was going to commit a planned and deliberate murder, they should find him guilty of first-degree murder, Heeney said. The same goes for if they think Rafferty meant to help or encourage McClintic to kill Tori and a kidnapping or sexual assault was part of the same series of events.

If, on the other hand, the jury believes Rafferty caused Tori's death, but it wasn't planned and deliberate or part of a kidnapping or sexual assault, they should find him guilty of second-degree murder, Heeney said.

A second-degree murder conviction would also be in order if jurors believe McClintic killed Tori, and Rafferty meant to help or encourage her, but didn't know the murder was planned. If the jury believes McClintic killed Tori, and Rafferty meant to help or encourage her and kidnapping and sexual assault wasn't part of the same series of events, second-degree murder would again be the result.

If the jury believes McClintic killed Tori and that Rafferty intentionally helped or encouraged her to commit an "objectively dangerous" act, but didn't know she was going to kill Tori, he would be guilty of manslaughter, Heeney told the jury.

Rafferty's lawyer Dirk Derstine, meanwhile, placed his client at the scene in their version of events, but portrayed him as an innocent dupe.

Derstine urged the jury to use extreme caution when considering McClintic's evidence — in fact, he suggested, they should reject all of it, except for her claim to be the killer. She has proven herself time and time again to be an accomplished liar, he said.

The bloodthirsty young woman sought out Tori, to whom she had some peripheral connections, did not tell Rafferty the girl in his car was kidnapped, had him drive to a remote location and told him to walk away, Derstine suggested. There was no sexual assault, Rafferty maintains.

When Rafferty came back he was horrified to find McClintic had murdered Tori, but helped her conceal the body in garbage bags and under rocks, Derstine said.

If the jury believes McClintic killed Tori and Rafferty did nothing to help or encourage her, he should be found not guilty, Heeney said.

If they think Rafferty did something that helped or encouraged McClintic to kill Tori, but didn't intend to do so and didn't know McClintic was going to kill Tori, then Rafferty should be found not guilty, Heeney said.

Jury verdicts must be unanimous, but the jurors don't all have to take the same route to reach the same conclusion.

The varying versions of McClintic's story might cause the jury some trouble. But whichever version the jury believes, the only significant difference between the two is who used the hammer, the Crown noted.

Indeed, the jury has seen many sides to McClintic. There was the girl with the troubled upbringing, picking up her mom's drug and drinking habits before puberty and saying she was abused.

There was the weeping teen who laid out in a police interview in great detail what she says happened on April 8 and trying to help police find Tori's body. Then there was the hardened young criminal, the gangster, stabbing a man and talking of wanting to smash skulls.

The jury may find it impossible to know which McClintic was with Tori on April 8. Was she following Rafferty's lead, chatting with the little girl about her favourite colour and telling her how brave she was, as she claims? Or was she intent on taking out her torture fantasies on the little girl she targeted, as the defence suggests?

Only two people truly know what happened in that secluded farmer's field, down a laneway, in a spot nestled behind a thicket of trees, out of sight and out of earshot of the side road, more than 100 kilometres away from Tori's home.

Rafferty did not take the stand in his own defence, so McClintic's version of events is the only one the jury has heard in evidence.

Knowing the jury might have trouble finding confidence in her evolving story, Crown lawyers set out to prove every part of it they could.

Investigators dug up Wal-Mart purchase orders and Feria hair colour packages to back up McClintic's assertion that days after the murder, Rafferty bought her some blond hair dye and told her to change her appearance.

A box of hair dye was found in her house and a receipt for hair dye with a matching SKU number was found in Rafferty's house.

Surveillance video, receipts, phone records, evidence of many other women from Rafferty's life, work orders from a summer job Rafferty had, and the discovery of McClintic's discarded shoes all independently confirm key aspects of her story, the Crown says.

Perhaps the shakiest area is the allegation of a sexual assault. McClintic described for the court in terrible detail what she says she witnessed. By the time Tori's remains were found more than three months later, they were so decomposed that there was no way to tell if there was any evidence of rape or not.

But, the Crown stressed, the girl was naked from the waist down. She had been wearing only a "Hannah Montana" T-shirt when her body was covered with garbage bags and placed under an evergreen tree with heavy rocks placed on top.

The injuries to Tori's torso were consistent with kicking and stomping, as McClintic described, and the damage to Tori's skull was consistent with repeated hammer blows, the pathologist said.

DNA that a forensic biologist could say to within a near certainty was Tori's was found in a tiny spot of blood on the rear passenger door frame of Rafferty's car. DNA in a small bloodstain on the bottom of a gym bag in Rafferty's car was also almost certainly from Tori and Rafferty.

Derstine urged the jury to look for other explanations for the evidence. Just because what McClintic said makes sense with the evidence, doesn't mean it's right, he said. Resist the temptation to fill in the blanks in the evidence with McClintic's testimony, he told jurors.

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