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Rafferty an unwilling dupe in McClintic's murderous plan: defence lawyer

Dirk Derstine, defence lawyer for Michael Rafferty, talks briefly with reporters during a break in proceedings at the trial in London, Ontario, Tuesday, May 1, 2012.


Convicted killer Terri-Lynne McClintic kidnapped eight-year-old Victoria (Tori) Stafford to resolve a "drug debt" and beat the child to death with a hammer she'd bought that day, while Michael Rafferty was just a reluctant dupe who got sucked into the murderous scheme, Mr. Rafferty's murder trial was told Monday.

But at no point in his closing argument did defence lawyer Dirk Derstine explain what the drug debt involved, nor say why Ms. McClintic chose to implicate Mr. Rafferty, her co-accused and former boyfriend.

Ms. McClintic, who testified against Mr. Rafferty during the trial and is serving a life prison term for Tori's murder, is the linchpin in the prosecution's case.

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She said she abducted Tori on Mr. Rafferty's instructions and that he drove the trio from Woodstock to a secluded patch of woods near Mount Forest, north of Guelph, where he raped the little girl in the back seat of his car. Then, Ms. McClintic said, she stomped and beat Tori to death.

Mr. Derstine repeatedly accused her of lying under oath. Almost nothing she told the jury – with the conspicuous exception of her claim that she wielded the hammer – could be believed, he said. "Terri-Lynne McClintic has perjured herself over and over and over again," he said.

He wasn't the only one saying so. For the first time since Mr. Rafferty's arrest three years ago, the defendant's mother spoke with reporters outside the courthouse to tell them her 31-year-old son, charged with first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and abduction, is innocent.

"He's not guilty and it hurts like hell," Deborah Murphy said. "First of all, my son's innocent and this could happen to any man that's walking around right now. Terri-Lynne McClintic has wrecked our lives and I just hope that justice is served and that he's free."

As Mr. Derstine repeatedly reminded the jury, his sole task is to raise reasonable doubt – poke holes in the Crown's case – and he is under no obligation to establish the facts. Nor must the jurors be swayed by emotion, he said.

"A little over three years ago, a beautiful little life was ended with disgusting brutality.… There are many in our community who may be uninterested in a fair trial for Michael Rafferty.… But upon your shoulders is placed the superhuman task of being neutral, impartial, level-headed."

Systematically, Mr. Derstine scrutinized nearly every piece of Ms. McClintic's version of events and argued that none of it added up. "It is an absurd story, it could not reasonably be true," he told the nine-woman, three-man jury.

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Mr. Derstine wants to persuade the jurors that Ms. McClintic was "the engine" of all that happened on that day in April, 2009, and that no sexual assault ever took place. (When Tori's body was finally found in a remote rural location, three months after she vanished outside her Woodstock school, it was too badly decomposed to provide evidence either way.) Mr. Rafferty drove the car to the crime scene and helped dispose of Tori's body, Mr. Derstine agreed, but took no role in killing the child.

He dwelled extensively on Ms. McClintic's lengthy criminal record; the violent death-rap music of which she was a fan; and the dark, hate-filled writings in her diaries, samples of which were read out.

"Clearly, Terri-Lynne McClintic is an accomplished liar," he said. "She has willfully, carefully and with real skill attempted and sometimes succeeded at misleading police officers."

Mr. Rafferty did not testify in his own defence and Mr. Derstine called on just one witness, so much will hinge on the conclusions the jurors draw from the closing statements. Crown attorney Kevin Gowdey will launch his arguments Tuesday morning.

Ms. McClintic's version of events isn't consistent with her actions that day, Mr. Derstine contended Monday, asserting that the couple weren't particularly close and it would have made little sense for her to go along with the crime. In particular, he rejected her claim that she kidnapped Tori because Mr. Rafferty had dared her to.

"So this guy you wouldn't even call your boyfriend – just a guy you're seeing – says, 'Hey, let's go kidnap a child' and you say, 'Uhhh, okay?'" he asked rhetorically. "C'mon. That's what she wants you to believe, that she's doing it as a dare? As a lark?"

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Mr. Derstine pointed to Mr. Rafferty's actions during the crime – stopping off at Tim Hortons, having a casual chat with his drug dealer – to argue that his client had no idea he was taking part in a kidnapping.

Ms. McClintic's testimony that Tori was selected at random is also doubtful, Mr. Derstine said, contending that when she led Tori to Mr. Rafferty's car that day, she knew very well whom she had abducted.

As evidence, he cited the testimony of two trial witnesses who said that as the pair walked away from the school together, Tori seemed to be chattering while Ms. McClintic seemed to be saying nothing – unlikely if the child has just met her kidnapper for the first time.

As for Ms. McClintic's assertion that she was just going along with her boyfriend's wishes and was helpless to do anything, she had ample opportunity to grab Tori and flee, en route to the murder scene, Mr. Derstine said. But she chose not to do so.

Mr. Derstine returned to the purchase of the hammer and garbage bags at a Home Depot outlet in Guelph on the afternoon Tori was killed. Ms. McClintic was caught on camera dashing into the store and making the purchase. But Mr. Derstine argued that the only evidence Mr. Rafferty ordered her to go in is the word of Ms. McClintic herself.

Mr. Rafferty had a knife in his car and had no reason to buy a hammer, he said.

He also pointed to Ms. McClintic's notebook, in which she scripted the story she would tell police if questioned, as evidence that she had planned the cover-up of the crime.

Some evidence he dismissed as irrelevant. Tori's DNA was discovered in Mr. Rafferty's battered Honda, for example, but that proved nothing more than that she had been in the car, he said.

And yes, he conceded, Mr. Rafferty didn't go to the police after Tori was killed. But that's because he doubted whether the police would believe him, Mr. Derstine said.

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At The Globe and Mail since 1982, in assorted manifestations, chiefly crime reporter, foreign correspondent and member of the Editorial Board, Tim is now retired. More

Washington correspondent

Adrian Morrow covers U.S. politics from Washington, D.C. Previously he was The Globe's Ontario politics reporter. He's covered news, crime and sports for The Globe since 2010. He won the National Newspaper Award for politics reporting in 2016. More

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