POLITICS
04/13/2012 04:10 EDT | Updated 06/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Rafferty told a friend of Tori Stafford's mom the girl would be OK, court told

LONDON, Ont. - As Victoria Stafford's body lay concealed in a secluded corner of a remote farmer's field, the man accused of killing her consoled a friend of the eight-year-old's mother, telling her Tori would return home safely, court heard Friday.

One of the 10 women Michael Rafferty, 31, was dating in the spring of 2009 testified at his first-degree murder trial Friday that she knew Tori and was quite upset after the little girl vanished outside her Woodstock, Ont., elementary school on April 8 of that year.

Amanda Chambers, 33, knew Tori's mother. So she, like so many other Woodstock residents, volunteered to help search for Tori the next day. That evening she got a call from Rafferty, who said he too was helping in the search, Chambers testified.

The following day she met Rafferty at a coffee shop, where he was "trying to be very supportive," Chambers said.

"He said, 'You know, I believe she's OK,'" Chambers testified. "He kept telling me he believed she was OK."

"I'm sure she'll return safe," she quoted Rafferty as saying.

Tori had been to Chambers' house and played with her children, and Rafferty appeared just as worried about Tori, she said.

"He seemed to be as concerned as pretty much any other person I had seen," she said. "He seemed to have a big heart about the situation."

Almost immediately after news of Tori's disappearance broke, Rafferty changed his status on the online messaging service MSN to say "Bring Tori home," testified a woman he chatted with over the Internet.

Like most of the other women Rafferty was seeing or chatting with in the spring of 2009, Sharon Latimer, 50, met Rafferty on the dating website Plenty of Fish. So did Michelle Wagler, 30, who also testified about Rafferty's changed MSN status. When she changed her own status to read "Prayers for Tori," Rafferty messaged her, Wagler said.

"He commented on my status and said that, 'We're all praying for her,'" Wagler testified.

Around that time surveillance video was released showing a woman in a white puffy coat leading Tori away from her school. Terri-Lynne McClintic, 21, has said it was her, and testified earlier at the trial that Rafferty was waiting in his car, just out of view of that surveillance video.

In the coffee shop on April 10 with Chambers, Rafferty joked that if a woman in a white coat came into the store he would tackle her, Chambers testified.

But several other women who Rafferty dated at the time testified that he talked about McClintic, speaking to her on the phone and visiting her at a youth detention centre. He really wanted to help her turn her life around, several ex-girlfriends testified. McClintic was arrested April 12 on an unrelated matter, court has heard, but police were also questioning her about the Stafford case.

McClintic confessed on May 19, 2009, and Rafferty was arrested. He has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and kidnapping. McClintic is already serving a life sentence after pleading guilty to first-degree murder.

During McClintic's testimony at Rafferty's trial, she said he had urged her to kidnap a child, and after they abducted Tori he drove them about two hours north to a rural area, where Rafferty sexually assaulted Tori before she was killed. McClintic told police in her confession that Rafferty killed Tori, but shortly before she testified at trial she changed her story to say that it was her, court heard.

That remote area southeast of Mount Forest, Ont., would have been familiar to Rafferty, who lived and worked nearby at various times in his life, court heard.

A previous witness testified she went to middle school with Rafferty in Drayton — about 35 kilometres south of Mount Forest — where he lived with an aunt and uncle, but he moved to the Toronto area for high school.

Later, he lived in Guelph, Ont. — where court has heard he and McClintic stopped with Tori in the car to buy garbage bags and a hammer — and worked for a landscaping company that had contracts at several landfills north of the city.

John Cruickshank, who owns the landscaping company, testified Friday that Rafferty worked for him in the summer of 2003 and from September 2005 to September 2006. The landfills Rafferty and his other employees worked at were between Guelph and Mount Forest, court heard, including one that was just a couple of side roads away from where Tori was killed.

Rachel Diwell, 23, who dated Rafferty when he lived in Guelph, said they were "inseparable" during their relationship of several months in 2006 or 2007. Many of their dates consisted of driving around back roads north of Guelph, she said.

"He always seemed to know where he was going or he had a map that he would look up," she said. "He always travelled on a lot of back roads to get places."

The pair also frequented self-serve car washes in Cambridge, Ont., Diwell testified. Though the trial has seen that Rafferty's car was dirty and filled with junk, clothing and shoes in 2009, Diwell said at the time she dated him, Rafferty obsessively kept his car clean. They would go to the car wash and clean the outside of the vehicle and vacuum inside "a couple times a week, at least," Diwell said.

McClintic testified that on the way home to Woodstock after leaving Tori's body in the field, Rafferty stopped at a car wash in Cambridge, where they vacuumed the interior and he told her to wash the floor mats.

Rafferty told most of the women he met that he had a contracting business and was a ballroom dance instructor, and that's why he was constantly on his BlackBerry, court heard. Other than his purported jobs, Rafferty doesn't appear to have disclosed much personal information to the women he dated, except for letting a few details slip to Stephanie Cooney, 29, about his formative years.

"He told me about his past, growing up, (it) wasn't the best," she testified. "He didn't really get along with his family at all, kind of had a bad childhood, got into a lot of trouble."

Rafferty told Cooney he didn't get along with his brother, she said. Court heard from another woman Thursday who said Rafferty told her he had a few brothers but wasn't close to them.