Warning: this story contains graphic details
In the days after eight-year-old Victoria (Tori) Stafford went missing, the man accused of raping her and beating her to death told women he knew that he was helping in the huge search, and was sure the little girl would be all right.
“He kept telling me he believed she was okay, saying, ‘I’m sure she’ll return safe,’” 33-year-old Amanda Chambers – who knew Tori through her daughter – told the murder trial of Michael Rafferty on Friday, her voice trembling.
And to another prosecution witness, 30-year-old Michelle Wagler, Mr. Rafferty dispatched text messages saying: “We’re all praying for her...please bring Tori home.”
The two women were among nine witnesses who have told the court of connecting with Mr. Rafferty, both before and after Tori was murdered, via the dating web site PlentyofFish.com, which bills itself as the largest such site in the world.
And in other evidence, the jury for the first time was offered information indicating how Mr. Rafferty might have come to select the secluded rural spot where Tori’s body was located in July, 2009: Three years earlier, he worked for a landscaping company that did a job nearby.
Of the eight witnesses who made short appearances on Friday as the sixth week of Mr. Rafferty’s trial wrapped up, seven were women who had had dealings with him involving varying degrees of friendship and intimacy.
As each walked in and out, Mr. Rafferty watched them intently from the glass-walled prisoner’s box and more than once rubbed his eyes.
Tori’s father and mother, Rodney Stafford and Tara McDonald, were also in the big, 14th-floor courtroom, which, as usual, was crowded with spectators.
The women’s testimony painted a picture of a needy, persistent suitor who exuded confidence and exhibited mood swings.
A woman whose name was placed under a publication ban recounted shunning his advances. “He was texting me and wondered why I wasn’t excited to see him,” she testified.
But for another, who dated Mr. Rafferty for several months in 2007, the breakup went the other way.
He deleted Rachel Diwell from his Facebook page and told her to lose his phone number.
But then he got back in touch.
“I thought you wanted nothing to do with me,” Ms. Diwell, 23, recounted saying to him.
“Yeah, well I changed my mind,” was his response.
Mr. Rafferty, 31, has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual assault causing bodily harm.
He and his former girlfriend, Terri-Lynne McClintic, were arrested in May, 2009. Six weeks earlier, Tori had been abducted from outside her Woodstock elementary school, and in July of that year, her decomposed body was found in a patch of woods outside Mount Forest, 110 kilometres away.
Last week, the jury was taken to the crime scene, a short drive east of Hwy 6, which winds north from Guelph to Mount Forest.
The side road that leads there cuts in from the small hamlet of Riverstown.
And in April 2006, Mr. Rafferty worked at the Riverstown landfill site, the trial heard Friday.
The evidence came from contractor John Cruickshank, who owns and operates Outdoor Services, a landscaping and snow-removal company.
He testified that he employed Mr. Rafferty in 2003 and for about a year in 2006-2007. And in April, 2007, his records show that Mr. Rafferty and two workmates spent the day at the landfill site, putting down mulch, cutting down plants and removing burlap from shrubs.
Now 21, Ms. McClintic confessed to Tori’s murder and is serving life in prison. But she told Mr. Rafferty’s trial that she beat the little girl to death with a hammer bought in Guelph, en route to Mount Forest, jettisoned after the murder and never located.
She nonetheless has told the jury that she and Mr. Rafferty were both culpable. Mr. Rafferty’s lawyer Dirk Derstine contends that Ms. McClintic not only murdered Tori but was in fact the architect of the entire crime.
The trial resumes on Tuesday, and the prosecution is expected to conclude its case the next week.