TORONTO – The man convicted of killing eight-year-old Victoria Stafford seven years ago is asking for a new trial, arguing there was too much weight given to the testimony of the “unsavoury” main witness.
Michael Rafferty was convicted in May 2012 of kidnapping, sexual assault causing bodily harm and first-degree murder in the death of the Woodstock, Ont., girl. His appeal is set to be heard Oct. 24.
Rafferty’s former girlfriend, Terri-Lynne McClintic, pleaded guilty in 2010 to first-degree murder, initially telling police Rafferty killed the girl, but testifying at his trial that she delivered the fatal blows.
Rafferty’s lawyer, Paul Calarco, argues in documents filed with the Court of Appeal for Ontario that the judge made several errors, including failing warn the jury against relying on the testimony of McClintic, “a person of unsavoury character, with a serious history of violence and lying.”
The Crown’s case was strongest on the kidnapping count, Calarco concedes, but since forensic evidence could not prove a sexual assault, that conviction was almost entirely dependent on McClintic’s version of events, he argues.
“While the Crown had some evidence against Mr. Rafferty, the worst aspects of the case depend almost entirely on McClintic’s evidence,” Calarco writes.
“It was essential the trial judge give a clear, sharp warning against relying on her in the absence of substantial corroboration.”
Rafferty did not testify at trial, but argues in his appeal that he was “at most” an accessory after the fact to murder — a concept the judge did not put to the jury.
His actions proven by evidence other than McClintic’s testimony, such as cleaning the scene, destroying evidence and giving a false alibi, are “equally consistent with being an accessory,” Calarco writes.
McClintic told court a horrifying story of a drug-addled couple abducting a young girl at random for the man’s sexual pleasure, then killing her with inconceivable brutality. She claimed Rafferty was directing her every step of the way, ordering her to snatch a young girl for him, making her buy a hammer and garbage bags then getting her to help him clean up at the murder scene.
The Crown at trial argued it didn’t matter whether McClintic or Rafferty physically killed Tori, he was guilty because they acted together.
Rafferty’s trial lawyer, Dirk Derstine, portrayed his client as an innocent dupe. McClintic had a troubled upbringing and a violent past including beating her mother and injuring a dog so badly it had to be put down.
The Appeal Court ruled in 2013 that Rafferty’s appeal should be publicly funded because it would be too complex for Rafferty to handle on his own with the assistance of duty counsel.