Rafferty put back seat of car out for garbage pickup, Stafford jury told

LONDON, ONT. — The Globe and Mail

Michael Rafferty is transported from the courthouse in the back of police cruiser in London, Ont., on March, 14, 2012. Mr. Rafferty is facing charges in the death of Victoria (Tori) Stafford. (DAVE CHIDLEY/THE CANADIAN PRESS/DAVE CHIDLEY/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

One former girlfriend recounted Michael Rafferty telling her he was a dance instructor. Another recalled him saying he was taking OxyContin pills to battle colon cancer.

A third female friend remembered Mr. Rafferty speaking briefly about his two brothers and that “I don’t think they were very close.”

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But it was not Mr. Rafferty’s personal life that was the connecting thread in the parade of prosecution witnesses at his murder trial Thursday.

Rather, it was the never-located back seat of the battered 2003 Honda Civic in which he is alleged to have driven eight-year-old Tori Stafford to a secluded rural location three years ago, and there raped her and beat her to death with a hammer.

Ranging in age from 29 to 40, all three women spent time with Mr. Rafferty in the weeks after he and co-accused Terri-Lynne McClintic allegedly kidnapped and killed Tori in April, 2009, transporting her to the crime scene on the back seat of the Honda, concealed under a coat.

And all three testified that they noticed the bench-style seat was gone.

The missing car seat is central to the Crown’s case.

Ms. McClintic, serving life imprisonment for her role in Tori’s murder, told police that Mr. Rafferty raped the child on it, and that on their way back to Woodstock, after Tori was killed, she cut out sections of the seat and flung them out of the window.

As to where the seat might have ended up, four former neighbours of Mr. Rafferty on Thursday offered a similar explanation.

All resided on the tidy Woodstock street where he and his mother lived at the time of Tori’s death, and all four told the jury of seeing a car seat outside the Rafferty home, placed there for pickup by the city’s “spring clean-up” garbage collection in the week after Tori vanished.

Mike Griswold testified that the back seat had been in the Honda when he helped move Mr. Rafferty from Guelph to Woodstock a year earlier, and was also there in the spring of 2009 when he asked him to crank down the music in his car.

On April 15, however, the self-described “nosy neighbour” spotted the seat on the curb outside the Rafferty household and noticed that the upholstery had been cut.

(In earlier evidence the jury was told that a small piece of seat upholstery was found on the floor of the Honda when it was seized by police.) Under cross-examination by Mr. Rafferty’s lawyer, Dirk Derstine, Mr. Griswold also agreed that a few weeks earlier he’d seen Mr. Rafferty take the seat out of the car so as to install stereo speakers, and put it in a shed.

Three other former neighbours also recounted seeing the grey car seat by the curb.

Mr. Rafferty, 31, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and kidnapping.

Also clear from Thursday’s testimony was that aside from Ms. McClintic, Mr. Rafferty was pursuing several other women both before and after Tori was murdered, and that the interest was not always mutual.

Melanie LaBute, 39, told the trial she met him in March, 2009, when he visited the Staples store in Woodstock where she worked, and asked her out, saying he was new in town.

But after a couple of meetings she didn’t want to see him any more.

The dirty interior of the Honda “just made me think of somebody who lived inside their car,” she said. “He just seemed really needy.”

Sarah Hodge, a child and youth worker, was less repelled.

When they dated briefly for a couple of weeks after Tori vanished, she testified, Mr. Rafferty was constantly monitoring the news for word of the missing child.

“He told me he knew all the information,” she said, and told her Tori’s disappearance was probably linked to her mother’s drug use.

In other evidence, Centre of Forensic Sciences biologist Jennifer McLean wrapped up her testimony Thursday morning by addressing two blonde scalp hairs found on a black pea coat similar to the one Ms. McClintic said was used to conceal Tori on the back seat.

One of the hairs had too little DNA to be of use, and the other did not come from Tori, Ms. McLean testified.

The trial resumes Friday.