Tears flowed in court Tuesday in the final phase of the Victoria (Tori) Stafford trial, and even the man who murdered and raped the eight-year-old Woodstock schoolgirl three years ago seemed affected, wiping his eyes as powerful victim-impact statements were read to the packed courtroom.
Then, in a jarring address that did nothing to ease the sorrow, Michael Rafferty rose in the prisoner’s box to offer an apology of sorts, in which he voiced sympathy for the enormous suffering he has wrought, yet insisted that he remained innocent.
Sentencing judge Mr. Justice Thomas Heeney was unimpressed.
“You sir are a monster,” he told the sniffling 31-year-old killer, convicted Friday night of first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and abduction.
“You have snuffed out the life of a beautiful, talented, vivacious little girl. a ‘tomboy diva’ in the trustful innocence of childhood.
“And for what? So that you could gratify your twisted and deviant desire to have sex with a child. Only a monster could commit such an act of pure evil.”
In all, eight short victim-impact statements were read out, five in person and three more by co-prosecutor Stephanie Venne.
And none resonated more strongly than that of Tori’s older brother, Daryn, now 14, who tried to convey what it is like “to have your world ripped out from under you in less than a day. No hugs, no ‘see you later, no goodbyes, just part of my heart ripped out.”
Their mother, Tara McDonald, spoke of the “excruciating, unexplainable pain and heartache” generated by the loss of Tori, kidnapped outside her school by Mr. Rafferty’s partner-in-crime Terri-Lynne McClintic and brought to him as he waited in a nearby parking lot.
Two years ago, Ms, McClintic was also sentenced to life imprisonment in Tori’s death, and she was the key witness at Mr. Rafferty’s trial.
Tori’s father, Rodney Stafford, spoke of “a day of horror that will live on within me, my family and millions of others for the rest of our lives.”
Then came Mr. Rafferty’s turn as he stood facing the court, wearing a three-piece suit and a striped tie.
Watched from the public seating area by nine members of the jury who attended the sentencing he said that “nobody has all the pieces of the puzzle,” that “I am truly sorry to the entire family,” and that “I am a very definite part of why Victoria is not here today.”
He added that he would also like to speak to Ms. McDonald “privately” to tell her something she does not know. Then, in his next breath he proclaimed that while “I am guilty of many things, and for that I am ashamed,” he stands behind his not-guilty plea.
“Classic psychopath,” one of the police officers who took a lead role in the investigation said afterward. “Right to the end, he’s still trying to manipulate people.”
Judge Heeney sentenced Mr. Rafferty to an automatic life sentence, with little chance of parole until at least 25 years have elapsed since his arrest.
By agreement between the Crown and defence lawyer Dirk Derstine he was also sentenced to two 10-year terms for the sexual assault and the abduction, to run concurrently.
As well, he was also placed under a lifetime firearms ban, placed on the sex-offender registry and ordered to provide DNA samples.
In theory, under the so-called “faint hope” clause of the Criminal Code, Mr. Rafferty could try seek parole after serving 15 years of his sentence.
The federal government scrapped that clause last year, but because Tori’s murder predated the change, the old rules apply.
Few such applications succeed, however, and in this instance the chances of Mr. Rafferty walking the street then – if ever – appear remote.
Daryn Stafford was in court but his victim-impact statement was read out for him.
It told of how “My sister was the only person I had to talk to;” of how he is now fearful, and of how Tori’s ghastly death has damaged the family.
“It’s like the world is playing a sick trick on me,” he wrote. “But it’s not. This is reality.”
His father Rodney told the courtroom the crime has made him realize “that evil does exist.”
And in an unscripted aside, he spoke to the killer directly, staring hard at him.
“She was stolen from us by you, you piece of shit,” he said.
Ms. McDonald described the pain of not watching her daughter grow up. The milestones of Tori’s life – graduation, her prom, marriage – have been replaced by grim anniversaries she said; The day the child was kidnapped in April, 2009; the day three months later when her decomposed body was found in woods near the small town of Mount Forest; the court dates.
Ms McDonld also addressed the cloud of suspicion that lingered over her and her former husband, Rodney Stafford, in the weeks that followed Tori’s disappearance.
“I have to live the rest of my life being stared at, listening to the whispers of strangers,” she said.
Court also heard statements from both of Tori’s grandmothers, two aunts and an uncle.
All alluded to the horror of the trial, and of knowing all the dreadful facts.
Before passing sentence, Mr. Justice Heeney also addressed his controversial exclusion of evidence seized from Mr. Rafferty’s laptop, which included child pronography.
The judge reiterated that the evidence was legally inadmissible because it breached the defendant`s Charter rights, and that his decision to exclude it ensured Mr. Rafferty received a fair trial.
He finished by thanking the lawyers and the jury.
For the last time, Mr. Rafferty slipped off the tie he was allowed to wear during his court appearances and handed it to one of the court officers And shortly after 11 a.m. he was led away.