A sentencing hearing is scheduled Tuesday for Michael Rafferty, who has been convicted on all charges he faced in the death of eight-year-old Victoria (Tori) Stafford of Woodstock, Ont., and there is speculation an appeal is likely.
A jury in London, Ont., on Friday found Rafferty, 31, guilty of first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and kidnapping after deliberating for about 10 hours over two days.
A conviction for first-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison with no chance of applying for parole for 25 years. Rafferty's former girlfriend, Terri-Lynne McClintic, 21, is already serving a life sentence for Tori's murder after she pleaded guilty two years ago.
Tori disappeared on her way home from Oliver Stephens Public School on April 8, 2009. Her remains were found more than three months later in a rural area outside Mount Forest, a small community 100 kilometres north of Woodstock.
During the 10-week trial, the Crown alleged the Grade 3 student was lured to Rafferty's vehicle by his then-girlfriend, McClintic, who was acting on his orders.
McClintic testified she killed the girl with a hammer, but the jury found Rafferty just as responsible as McClintic for the girl's death, regardless of who wielded the hammer.
Rafferty shut his eyes and stood motionless as the guilty verdicts were read shortly after 9 p.m. ET, and his knees appeared to buckle. Tori's family burst into tears, clasped hands and breathed audible sighs of relief.
After hearing the verdict, Tori's grandmother Doreen Graichen said justice had been done and a burden lifted.
"What we've been feeling for the past three years has been hell. This is almost a release for us," she said.
Tori's father, Rodney Stafford, said after the verdict it was hard to contain himself in the emotionally charged courtroom, but it was a relief that this was how the past three years of his life had come to an end.
He said felt "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," Rodney Stafford added.
Michael Harding, who was the mayor of Woodstock at the time Tori disappeared, told CBC News on Saturday he was glad the Staffords got the outcome they were seeking.
"I'm so happy for the family that they got the justice that they so desired, but like Rodney said, Tori is not coming home," Harding said, his voice choking with emotion. "I'm glad two people who did horrible, despicable things are not going to be in our community or anywhere in Canada for some time to come."
Woodstock's current mayor and police chief held a joint news conference Saturday in reaction to the verdict.
Mayor Pat Sobeski thanked police, the judge and the Crown prosecutors who worked on the case and urged residents of the town to "begin the healing process.”
Police Chief Rod Freeman called it a “bittersweet experience."
"We truly wish in our hearts, every single one of us, that we never had to be here in the first place," he said.
Family to give impact statements
Stafford's family will have to be in the same room as Rafferty one last time when they deliver their victim impact statements at his sentencing hearing on Tuesday.
Defence lawyer Michael Lacy told CBC News on Saturday he believed an appeal is "likely," partly because of the sentence Rafferty faces, but added there would be more to it.
"I think the appeal will rest on the trial judge's decision to allow the Crown to introduce the prior statement of McClintic," Lacy said, referring to a crucial piece of testimony that implicated Rafferty.
"It's a special procedure that's used. It's a legal motion that the Crown had to bring to introduce that evidence, and I think that will be the subject of an appeal.
"Having said that, given that the trial judge excluded evidence from the car and that came under a lot of attention, obviously before the verdict, that actually hurts Michael Rafferty's appellate chances. Had that evidence been admitted, that would have been another ground of appeal, leaving uncertainty about the conviction going forward."
Police found Rafferty's laptop when they seized his car, but Judge Thomas Heeney ruled the contents were inadmissible because investigators had taken the computer without a proper warrant. Investigators say there was evidence of dozens of file names that strongly suggested Rafferty had downloaded child pornography.
Rafferty's lawyer, Dirk Derstine, said Friday night he doesn't know whether Rafferty will seek an appeal, which must be done within 30 days.
Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom, Derstine defended his decision to take Rafferty's case.
“The reality of it is that everybody in our system deserves a strong, proper and effective defence,” he said.
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