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Tori Stafford's mother recounts ties to confessed murderer

Tara McDonald, mother of murder victim Tori Stafford, arrives at court in London, Ont., as the first-degree murder trial for Michael Rafferty begins March 5, 2012.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail/Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

The connection between the household of 8-year-old Tori Stafford and the woman convicted of killing her was twofold, a murder trial was told Wednesday: It involved drugs and dogs.

Testifying in the trial of Michael Rafferty, charged with first-degree murder, sexual assault and abduction in Tori's death three years ago, was Tori's mother, Tara McDonald, a recovered OxyContin addict.

Tori vanished in April, 2009, en route to the house in Woodstock she shared with Ms. McDonald and her brother Daryn, aged 10 at the time.

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One year later, a young woman who lived a couple of blocks away, Terri-Lynne McClintic, pleaded guilty to murdering the little girl and is serving life imprisonment. Now Mr. Rafferty, her former boyfriend, is on trial and has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Ms. McClintic, 21, will testify for the prosecution next week, and in evidence likely to be extremely disturbing, is expected to provide the nine-woman, three-man jury with harrowing details about what happened to the Grade 3 student after she was kidnapped.

Composed and articulate, sometimes staring hard at Mr. Rafferty as he sat in the prisoner's box, Ms. McDonald, 33, told lead prosecutor Michael Carnegie that she began taking OxyContin in 2005, and that she and her boyfriend, James Gorris, twice visited Ms. McClintic's home to buy the widely abused painkiller, which she said induced a feeling of being "comfortable, happy, relaxed."

Ms. McClintic was sharing the run-down frame house with her adoptive mother Carol, a long-time drug user and former stripper, and it was Carol who sold them the pills, Ms. McDonald said.

Ms. McClintic was present both times, she testified, and on one occasion was "very, very under the influence [of OxyContin] I'm not sure if she even knew we were there that day."

For mobile readers, click here to see live coverage of the trial.

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And on the day Tori disappeared, Ms. McDonald had ingested OxyContin, she admitted.

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She has been drug-free for just over six months, she said kicking her OxyContin habit with methadone. "I'm doing very well."

The other point of contact between the two families involved Shih Tzu dogs.

Carol McClintic owned two, and Tori had one as well, named Cosmo, on which she doted. "Cosmo was her best friend," Ms. McDonald testified.

There was talk of breeding Cosmo with one of the Shih Tzus, Ms. McDonald told the trial, and she left her phone number with Carol McClintic so they could "discuss the dogs."

Tori never met Ms. McClintic or Mr. Rafferty before she vanished, Ms. McDonald said, but she agreed that in her own home Tori might have overheard discussion about the breeding idea.

And while Ms. McClintic told police in her confession that Tori was kidnapped at random, it also contained the telling detail that when Ms. McClintic lured Tori away from Oliver Stephens Public School that afternoon, she introduced herself by telling the child she had a Shih Tzu, and invited her to see it.

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Ms. McDonald described her daughter as a loving, clever tomboy with a sunny personality and the nickname "Chubchubs." She was particularly close to her brother Daryn, her mother also said, and also to her maternal grandmother, Linda Winters, who lived nearby.

"She loved girly things, makeup, lip gloss, barrettes."

In other testimony, a Woodstock police officer outlined the scale of the search that was launched in the hours and days after Tori went missing.

Local police drew criticism at the time for not quickly issuing an Amber Alert, which specifies that a missing child is suspected of having been kidnapped.

Staff Sergeant Paul James Hess, however, painted a picture of an investigation that from the outset went full-tilt.

He told the trial that Tori was reported missing just after 6 p.m. that day, and that he swiftly marshalled all the resources he could, both uniformed and plainclothes officers, because "I didn't have a very good feeling."

In the next couple of days, several other Ontario police forces pitched in, and with the release of the now-famous video showing Tori being led away by Ms. McClintic, more than 900 tips poured in, all of which had to be investigated.

Major searches were undertaken and in Woodstock alone, more than 2,500 homes were canvassed. Other measures included wiretaps, scrutiny of sex offenders and chats with informants. One week after Tori vanished, Staff-Sgt. Hess said, more than 100 detectives were working on the case.

Nor did the momentum cease.

When the OPP took over the case, a week after Tori disappeared, the investigation mushroomed into one of the largest ever undertaken.

On April 25, 13 days after the disappearance, the case was featured on America's Most Wanted.

In all, more than 1,100 pieces of evidence and 4,500 photographs have been assembled for the trial.

It resumes Thursday.

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About the Authors

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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