Early in the trial of the man accused of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and murdering eight-year-old Tori Stafford, his lawyer floated a theory on how the crime was committed: His client, Michael Rafferty, drove the car that whisked the Woodstock, Ont., girl to her death, but the mastermind behind the slaying was actually Mr. Rafferty’s then-girlfriend, Terri-Lynne McClintic, who abducted Tori to settle a drug debt.
This narrative, which defence lawyer Dirk Derstine outlined as he cross-examined Ms. McClintic, heightened speculation Mr. Rafferty would testify in his own defence to expand on the story.
On Tuesday, spectators packed the courtroom and nearly filled up a second room to watch via video link, so great was the anticipation that, nearly three years after his arrest, Mr. Rafferty would describe what happened in his own words.
But in the end, Mr. Rafferty’s legal team did not call him to testify, electing instead to present one brief witness before resting its case.
Mr. Rafferty, 31, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, abduction and sexual assault causing bodily harm in Tori’s death. Two years ago, Ms. McClintic, now 21, admitted murdering Tori and is serving a life term at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener.
Mr. Derstine will make his closing arguments on Friday, prosecutors will make theirs on Monday and, after a charge from Mr. Justice Thomas Heeney, the jury will retire to consider its verdict next week.
Over the course of the past nine weeks, jurors have heard two sharply different accounts of what took place on April 8, 2009. Ms. McClintic testified that, at Mr. Rafferty’s direction, she walked up to Oliver Stephens Public School that day and approached Tori at random because the little girl was walking alone. After coaxing her to Mr. Rafferty’s car with the promise of seeing a dog, Ms. McClintic said, she bundled the girl into the back seat and they drove first to Guelph, then to a secluded country lane. At that spot, Ms. McClintic told court, Mr. Rafferty sexually assaulted the girl before Ms. McClintic bludgeoned her to death with a hammer.
Mr. Derstine, however, implied that Ms. McClintic, who knew Tori’s mother, chose the girl deliberately. He said Ms. McClintic told Mr. Rafferty she had taken the girl to settle a drug debt – who owed what wasn’t explained – had her boyfriend drive them to a country lane, then sent him away while she killed the girl. His client, Mr. Derstine said, was “horrified” when he returned to find Tori dead.
Ms. McClintic flatly rejected Mr. Derstine’s story.
By opting not to call Mr. Rafferty as a witness, the scenario Mr. Derstine outlined will be considered a theory rather than as evidence. But having the 31-year-old testify would have left him open to cross-examination by prosecutors.
Mr. Derstine brought in a lone witness on Tuesday to buttress one of his claims: that Ms. McClintic was purposeful in her abduction of Tori.
The witness, whose name is shielded by a publication ban, told court she saw a woman at Oliver Stephens after class that day wearing a white puffy jacket that Ms. McClintic admitted sporting in a security video of her leading Tori away that day. The witness testified the woman went inside the school.
Shortly after, she said she saw a woman in a white jacket walking up the street nearby with a little girl in tow.
“The woman had a very stern face and was on a mission, walking rather quickly. It was all the little girl could do to keep up,” she said. “The little girl that was with her was happy, skipping, talking a mile a minute.”