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Michael Rafferty's future: isolated with slim hope of ever getting out

Michael Rafferty is transported from the courthouse in the back of police cruiser in London, Ontario, Wednesday, March, 14, 2012.


What next for Michael Rafferty?

By any estimate, the 31-year-old killer's prospects are bleak.

Rarely do murder convictions elicit the surge of elation that erupted in London and Woodstock late Friday night as word spread that the man charged with kidnapping, raping and beating to death eight-year-old Victoria (Tori) Stafford three years ago had been found guilty on all charges.

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For the reviled loser whose trial drew so much attention, there was nothing to celebrate.

As the nine-woman, three-man jury delivered its verdict, Mr. Rafferty stood impassively in the prisoner's box, staring straight ahead. But when he sat back down, he slumped against the wall, eyes half closed, defeated.

Where is Rafferty now?

For the immediate moment he is going nowhere, but will remain in the segregation wing of the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre, a cheerless low-rise compound of brick, steel and razor wire on the south end of London.

What will his sentence be?

On Tuesday morning he will return to court for the last time to hear victim-impact statements and sentencing. And there is no doubt what Mr. Justice Thomas Heeney's sentence will be. First-degree murder carries an automatic penalty of life imprisonment with scant chance of parole for at least 25 years.

Will he ever see freedom again?

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At the 15-year mark, the so-called "faint hope" clause kicks in, allowing the prisoner to seek permission to make a parole application. But most killers are turned down, and in this instance, the notoriety and extraordinary viciousness of the circumstances all but ensure that Mr. Rafferty will not be freed at that point – if ever. However, he likely cannot be ruled a "dangerous offender," which spells an indefinite sentence, because that requires prosecutors to show a pattern to the criminality. And aside from a brush with the law when he was a juvenile, Mr. Rafferty had until Friday never been convicted of anything.

Can he appeal?

Asked after the verdict if Mr. Rafferty planned to appeal it, his lawyer, Dirk Derstine, said that would be up to his client. To do so usually requires either discovering new evidence or finding a legal error by the trial judge.

Where will he be imprisoned?

After Tuesday's hearing, his next stop will be Millhaven Institution, the maximum-security penitentiary west of Kingston that doubles as a classification centre, where he will spend about six weeks. After that he will either remain in Millhaven or be dispatched to another maximum-security prison, And for a sex killer such as him, the traditional destination would be Kingston Penitentiary, the 177-year-old fortress that is home to Paul Bernardo, Russell Williams and more than 400 of Canada's other most dangerous inmates. But Kingston Pen is to be shut down at some unspecified date, the Stephen Harper government recently announced, even though the federal prison system is chock-full. So conceivably Mr. Rafferty will be sent elsewhere.

What can he expect in prison?

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Wherever he does end up, he is sure to spend the decades ahead in almost complete isolation. A murderer with his résumé would not last 15 minutes within the general population of a federal penitentiary. And even if was housed with other sex offenders he would be an instant target, as Mr. Bernardo has learned. Nor will he be getting many visitors. Aside from his distressed mother, who showed up briefly, no relatives or supporters appeared at his trial. Even before his arrest, he appeared to be almost entirely friendless, aside from the many gullible young women he befriended on the dating web site

As for treating any underlying mental illness that may have that triggered Mr. Rafferty's murderous attack on Tori Stafford, he should not be holding his breath on that count either. The largest such facility in the country is the Regional Treatment Centre, inside the walls of Kingston Penitentiary, and that too will be shut down, the government has stated, with no explanation of what might replace it.

In sum, the once-gregarious sex killer who described himself on Facebook as "complex, with lots of layers," is facing a recipe for despair: A claustrophobic, empty future almost entirely devoid of hope.

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