On the afternoon eight-year-old Victoria (Tori) Stafford vanished three years ago, a Woodstock mother with a son in Tori’s Grade 3 class saw her walking hurriedly away from school with a young woman, she testified, and the brief encounter left her uneasy.
Prosecution witness Laura Perry told the murder trial of Michael Rafferty Tuesday that she recognized Tori but had never before seen the young woman hustling the girl away from Oliver Stephens Public School just after classes ended.
The slimly built woman was wearing a white jacket and Ms. Perry guessed she was in her late teens.
“They were walking very fast,” she told Crown attorney Brian Crockett. “Like they were walking somewhere with a purpose.”
And something about Tori’s companion – now known to be convicted killer Terri-Lynne McClintic – didn’t seem right, Ms. Perry told defence lawyer Dirk Derstine under cross-examination.
“She was different,” Ms. Perry said.
In April. 2010, one year after Tori’s abduction, Ms. McClintic confessed to murdering Tori and is serving a sentence of life imprisonment with little chance of parole for 25 years.
Now, Mr. Rafferty – her boyfriend at the time – is on trial accused of murder, abduction and sexual assault.
He has pleaded not guilty, and there is considerable speculation about what Ms. McClintic will say when she appears as a prosecution witness, likely next week.
As they approached Ms. Perry, Tori and Ms. McClintic were captured on a surveillance camera at nearby College Avenue Secondary School, in a now famous video. For weeks, investigators pored over this and much other surveillance footage.
And on Tuesday, Detective Constable Robin Brocanier of the Ontario Provincial Police’s Tillsonburg detachment explained how he used the material to trace what he believes are Tori’s last movements in Woodstock that day.
It all hinges on a dark-coloured car that Det. Constable Brocanier glimpsed on video several times near the school.
The first sighting was around 3:05 p.m., as the car travelled down the street outside Oliver Stephens. Then, about 15 minutes later, video from a nearby Esso station showed a similar vehicle pulling in, sporting distinctive black rims and a tinted rear window, and driven by a person in a white top.
Shortly after 3:30 p.m., other video showed a dark car pulling into the parking lot of Caressant Care retirement home, up the block from Oliver Stephens. About a minute and a half later, Tori and Ms. McClintic walked by and additional footage, the officer said, showed the pair walking toward the retirement home.
Seconds later, the dark car pulled out of the lot.
If his hunches are correct, the entire abduction took less than three minutes.
So far there has been no evidence to show the dark car is the grey Honda Civic to which co-prosecutor Kevin Gowdey alluded in his opening remarks, but the connection was clear.
In earlier testimony, Tori’s teacher, Jennifer Griffin Murrell, told the trial how minutes before the dismissal bell rang that day, Tori had sought permission to return to her desk to retrieve a pair of her mother’s butterfly earrings.
After she returned, the teacher told Tori she would see her the next day, watched her leave the building and disappear from view. It was the last time she ever saw Tori.
Choking back tears, Ms. Griffin Murrell described her pupil as outgoing, inquisitive and happy-go-lucky, always willing to help her classmates.
“She was a caring girl, very sensitive,” the teacher recounted.
“She was stronger at academics in regards to some of the others … she always wanted to help them … she had a little spunk.”
Tori’s last day at Oliver Stephens was routine enough: a writing lesson, a spell in the computer lab to research plants, a math period. At recess, she got her clothes wet by splashing in a puddle with a friend; in art class, she amused students by trying to cut decals off her shirt, earning a mild reproach.
Days later, the teacher was asked to identify Tori in the surveillance video of the little girl and the woman in a white puffy coat.
As it played in court, Ms. Griffin Murrell gave a muted gasp.
“That’s Tori and the girl who did it,” she said.
Tori’s family attended court again, with her father, Rodney, dressed in a purple shirt and handing out ribbons in the same colour, his daughter’s favourite. During a break, he said he was pleased with the methodical pace of proceedings so far and he had kind words for Ms. Griffin Murrell, whose testimony he described as “very heartfelt.”
“The way she described Victoria is a way I couldn’t, because she saw Victoria on a daily basis and I didn’t,” he said. “She described Victoria to a T.”
He stressed that he was anxious to keep the focus on his slain daughter rather than Mr. Rafferty, who once again during Tuesday’s testimony occasionally flashed strange smiles in the courtroom.
Tori’s mother, Tara McDonald, 33, is expected to testify on Wednesday.