The trial of a man accused of abducting, sexually assaulting, and murdering 8-year-old Victoria (Tori) Stafford will begin today in London, Ont.
Michael Thomas Christopher Stephen Rafferty, 31, who pleaded not guilty to first -degree murder, kidnapping, and sexual assault causing bodily harm Feb. 29, will appear before Superior Court Justice Thomas Heeney, where the Crown is expected to open their case and call their first witness.
The trial will take place before 12 jurors made up of nine women and three men who were selected Feb. 29 and March 1. It is expected to last for several months and may continue into June. Originally anticipated to take place in Woodstock, it was moved to London after it was thought that Rafferty wouldn’t get a fair trial in the town he shared with Stafford.
Rafferty was arrested with his girlfriend, Terri-Lynne McClintic, 21, a month after Stafford disappeared and has remained in police custody since.
Stafford was last seen April 8, 2009 in Woodstock, Ont. after she planned to take her first walk home from Oliver Stephens Public School alone.
In an agreed statement of facts in R. v. McClintic, McClintic claimed she was high on Oxycotin pills when she began speaking with Stafford about dogs and promised the blonde haired, blue eyed girl she could see a puppy called Precious if Stafford followed her to a local retirement home parking lot.
McClintic claimed she then drove to a remote location, but stopped to pick up garbage bags and a hammer along the way, according to the statement.
Nearly three months later Stafford’s remains were found in Mount Forest, Ont., roughly 200 kilometers from where she was last seen alive. Stafford was identified through dental records. According to the agreed statement of facts, along with her remains, provincial police found parts of a headband, a Hannah Montana T-shirt, and a pair of butterfly earrings Stafford had returned to her classroom to grab shortly before leaving school to walk home. An autopsy determined she died from multiple blunt force trauma. It is believed Stafford died the same day she was abducted.
McClintic pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in April 2010 and was sentenced to life in prison. She may be eligible for parole in 25 years and is expected to testify at Rafferty’s trial as early as Friday.
Stafford’s disappearance marked the largest investigation in Ontario Provincial Police history and led to changes to when the province’s Amber Alter system is used to notify the public about possible child abductions.
“With the loss of Victoria, thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people felt a tremendous loss worldwide. Victoria was a very beautiful eight-year-old child, and an innocent little girl who put a smile on every face she met,” Stafford’s father, Rodney Stafford said in a victim impact statement filed in court. “No matter the sentence set down for this heinous crime, nothing will ever be close to satisfying the feeling of the loss of your child. Forced into my life. You can not prepare for it, you can only do your part to seek justice for what has happened, and make others aware that predators are in fact out there. Not just here, but everywhere.”