TORONTO — Ontario’s highest court swiftly dismissed an appeal Monday by the man convicted of killing eight-year-old Victoria Stafford.
Michael Rafferty was sentenced to life in prison in 2012 with no chance of parole for 25 years for kidnapping, sexual assault causing bodily harm and first-degree murder in the 2009 death of the Woodstock, Ont., girl.
Rafferty’s accomplice, Terri-Lynne McClintic, pleaded guilty in 2010 to first-degree murder.
McClintic was the key witness at Rafferty’s trial, telling 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.
Rafferty’s lawyer, Paul Calarco, argued that the judge made several errors, including failing to warn the jury against relying on the testimony of the “unsavoury” McClintic.
“I have not suggested…Mr. Rafferty had no involvement in this situation, but every person in our society is entitled to a legally correct trial and that, Mr. Rafferty did not receive and only a new trial can correct these errors,” Calarco argued.
But the appeal court judges dismissed Rafferty’s case before hearing the Crown’s oral submissions.
“You argued an extremely difficult appeal very well, but I simply don’t agree with you,” Appeal Court Justice John Laskin told Calarco.
Justices Robert Sharpe and Grant Huscroft (background) and Michael Raffety’s lawyer Paul Calarco (standing, centre) are seen in a Toronto courtroom during the appeal by the convicted killer of eight-year-old Victoria Stafford on Oct. 24, 2016.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley
Among those on hand to hear the appeal were Victoria’s mother, father, uncle, family friends and Woodstock Police Chief Bill Renton, who used to be with the Ontario Provincial Police and was the lead investigator on Victoria’s murder. Family and supporters cheered when the judges dismissed the appeal.
“We were here wasting taxpayers’ money, to be quite honest,” said Victoria’s father, Rodney Stafford. “We really had no reason to be here. All the information that was put forward in 2012 landed him where he was and that’s exactly where he deserves to be.”
The court will issue its reasons for the dismissal later, but Laskin expressed skepticism at most of Calarco’s arguments.
Calarco argued that some of Rafferty’s actions after the killing – such as cleaning his car, disposing of clothing and giving a false alibi – were “equally consistent” with being an accessory after the fact.
But Laskin said they were “not equally consistent on this record, Mr Calarco – not even close to being equally consistent.”
Calarco also argued that the trial judge erred by not giving the jury what is called a Vetrovec warning, which cautions juries about the testimony of untrustworthy witnesses. McClintic claimed Rafferty was directing her every step of the way, but right before the trial she changed her story to say she was the one who delivered the fatal blows.
Rafferty’s lawyer suggested his client was an innocent dupe to a plan concocted entirely by McClintic, but the Crown at trial argued it didn’t matter whether McClintic or Rafferty physically killed the girl – he was guilty because they acted together.
“Ms. McClintic is prone to lying about everything,” he argued. “She is the only evidence as to what was going on between those two people and that is essential to the case.”
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But Rafferty’s trial lawyer, Dirk Derstine, made a tactical decision not to ask the judge to give a Vetrovec warning, Laskin noted.
“The trial judge wanted to give a Vetrovec, he did all he could to give a Vetrovec, and Mr. Derstine…still didn’t want it, so what’s a poor trial judge to do here?” he asked.
“You’ve got a very experienced trial counsel who’s saying, ‘Please Mr. Trial Judge, don’t give a Vetrovec warning.’ The trial judge is supposed to say, ‘I don’t care what you say Mr. Derstine, I’m going to give one anyway?”‘
Calarco argued that yes, the judge was legally obligated to give such a warning, but Laskin countered that it’s discretionary.
Calarco said he “can’t speculate” whether there are grounds to seek leave to appeal at the Supreme Court of Canada.