Warning: This story contains graphic content
Elation swept through London’s downtown courthouse and spilled out into the street Friday evening as a jury convicted Michael Rafferty of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and murdering eight-year-old Victoria (Tori) Stafford.
Spectators hugged and burst into applause, passing motorists honked their horns and Tori’s parents both wept after Mr. Rafferty stood in the prisoner’s box and listened to the foreman pronounce him guilty on all three counts shortly after 9 p.m.
As Rodney Stafford, Tori’s father, stepped from the courthouse into a warm spring evening, he was mobbed by supporters and cheered: “Yeah!”
“We got it. We got justice!” he said, his eyes welling up with tears as he held up a photograph of his daughter. “And it was all for this little girl right here. And not just for Tori but for every little child in Canada who doesn’t deserve what happened to her. Victoria!”
Doreen Graichan, Rodney's mother, added that she knew “from the heart” that the right verdict would be reached.
“It’s amazing, just amazing. Everybody has been so wonderful.”
Tori’s mother, Tara McDonald, embraced family members and seemed overcome with emotion. She made no comment afterward, but was visibly elated by the verdict.
Many others in the packed courtroom were also crying, including some of the police, jurors and numerous members of the public. Even Tori’s brother, Daryn, was present.
Gasps of approval rippled through the courtroom as each of the verdicts was read out.
In an overflow courtroom where others watched by video link, spectators burst into applause at each guilty verdict.
The hearing lasted less than 10 minutes.
Mr. Rafferty, for his part, listened stoically to the verdicts. But as each individual juror was called to confirm their support for the convictions, he leaned his head back and his eyes filled with tears.
He will face an automatic sentence of life imprisonment with little chance of parole for 25 years for the first-degree murder charge. The formal sentencing will take place Tuesday morning when victim impact statements will be heard and he will have an opportunity to address the court.
Outside on a concrete plaza in front of the court house, spectators applauded as the four prosecutors walked out.
“We're happy with the verdict,” said Crown attorney Kevin Gowdey. “We want to thank the jury for their dedication.”
Referencing the gruelling, 10-week trial, he said: “it’s a day of mixed emotions, it's been long ... we believe that justice has been served.”
The officer who led the investigation, Ontario Provincial Police Inspector Bill Renton, praised the media for its assistance and lauded the “difficult job” the jury had to do. He stressed that the investigation involved numerous police agencies an “amazing Crown team.”
Mr. Rafferty's lawyer, Dirk Derstine, told reporters his client was disappointed by the verdict. He did not know if he would appeal.
“Everybody in our system deserves a strong defence,” he said.
The jury deliberated for a little more than 12 hours Friday. As they sat in a 14th-floor room, the court house filled with family members, supporters and members of the public who waited on tenterhooks for the verdict.
Many fretted that the exclusion of some evidence – notably child pornography found on Mr. Rafferty's computer – would sway the verdict. But in the end, it made no difference. The jury didn’t even opt to knock the first-degree murder charge down to manslaughter or the sexual assault causing bodily harm charge down to straight sexual assault.
Jurors did, however, three times call court back into session throughout the day to ask questions of Mr. Justice Thomas Heeney.
The first time, jurors asked to review video of an interrogation of Terri-Lynne McClintic, Mr. Rafferty's former girlfriend. In the May, 2009 police interview, she described how Mr. Rafferty raped Tori in the back of his car, then bludgeoned her to death.
The account in the video is similar to the one she gave at Mr. Rafferty's trial, save for one key aspect. In her testimony, she said it was she, not he, who wielded the hammer that killed Tori. Crown prosecutors battled hard during the trial to ensure the video was entered into evidence, and made it an important part of their case.
On the other two occasions, the jury asked the judge to explain whether removing a child's undergarments would constitute sexual assault or sexual assault causing bodily harm.
Judge Heeney told them they would have to consider three things to establish sexual assault causing bodily harm: if force had been used, if it occurred in a sexual situation and if it injured Tori.
Court heard earlier that Tori's body was too badly decomposed to determine if she had been raped – only that she was naked from the waist down.
Mr. Rafferty's lawyers, for their part, spent part of the trial blasting away at other evidence of a sexual assault, depicting Ms. McClintic as a liar and suggesting that specks of Tori's blood found in Mr. Rafferty's car were deposited there after Ms. McClintic killed the girl.