Michael Rafferty was familiar with the north-south highway that leads to the secluded rural spot where 8-year-old Victoria (Tori) Stafford’s body would later be found, and he was driven up and down the road many times, his murder trial was told Tuesday.
The evidence came from prosecution witness Jennifer Etsell, a medical secretary who lives in Hanover, north of the small town of Mount Forest. A few minutes’ drive southeast of Mount Forest is the patch of woodland where Tori was allegedly raped before being killed in April, 2009.
Ms. Etsell, 30, told the jury that in March 2006, she met Mr. Rafferty on the dating web site PlentyofFish.com.
“He said he was looking for a Christian girl,” she testified. “He said he wore his heart on his sleeve and was a ladies man.”
He was living in Guelph at the time, about an hour’s drive from Mount Forest, and during the four or five months that the couple dated that year, Ms. Etsell would drive down to Guelph to see him almost every weekend, she said.
Sometimes she would stay over in Guelph, but more often she would bring him back up Highway 6 to her home in Hanover.
For most of that time he had neither a car nor a driver’s licence, so she usually drove. And Ms. Etsell’s purpose as a witness was evident – to buttress the prosecution’s case that when Tori was abducted and taken to the crime scene, it was no accident that Mr. Rafferty selected the spot that he did.
Last week the jury also heard that he once worked for a landscaping company that had done work on Highway 6, at a landfill site where a side road cuts off to the grassy trail leading to where Tori was found murdered.
In other evidence Tuesday, a second former female friend testified that a few weeks before Mr. Rafferty and his girlfriend, co-accused Terri-Lynne McClintic, allegedly killed Tori together, he said he was seeing another woman and that things were going well.
`“He was very happy that he was dating her, he thought she was the girl he was going to marry,” witness Ann Tweedie testified.
Another of the many women Mr. Rafferty dated before and after Tori died told the trial that when he first came under suspicion, shortly before he was arrested,
he was upset.
“He seemed to think the police were blaming him for taking Tori,” recounted Joy Wells. “He couldn't figure out why.”
As well, the 39-year-old mother-of-three told of how her new boyfriend was constantly trying to buy gifts for her and her children, which made her uncomfortable.
A police witness also described for the jury how he checked out Mr. Rafferty's licence plate as he drove around Woodstock a few hours after allegedly murdering Tori, but that nothing unusual showed up, so he was not stopped for questioning.
Mr. Rafferty seemed unusually engaged at Tuesday's hearing, scribbling notes and consulting with his lawyer as he listened to testimony and to legal arguments that cannot be reported.
The trial is now in its seventh week.
Mr. Rafferty, 31, has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual assault causing bodily harm.
The prosecution is expected to wrap up its case next week.
Two years ago Ms. McClintic, 21, confessed to murdering Tori and is serving life imprisonment at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener.