Jury selected in Tori Stafford murder trial
The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, March 1, 2012 7:07PM EST
LONDON, Ont. - A jury of nine women and three men has been selected to try the first-degree murder case in the death of eight-year-old Victoria Stafford.
Michael Rafferty, 31, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and kidnapping in the death of the Grade 3 student.
Tori disappeared while on her way home from school in Woodstock, Ont., on April 8, 2009, and her body was found three months later. Terri-Lynne McClintic, now 21, has already been convicted of first-degree murder in the girl's death.
"The allegations in this case are horrible," Rafferty's lawyer Dirk Derstine said outside court. "It's very important that everybody keep an open mind and everybody not have a rush to judgment."
The Crown is set to open its case in London, Ont., on Monday with an opening statement and first witness.
Jurors have been told the trial is expected to last between 2 1/2 and three months, possibly extending into June.
The 12 jurors and two alternates were selected over a four-day process that started with a pool of hundreds of people. The group was first whittled down to 116 after most people were excused for various financial, medical and travel reasons.
Over Wednesday and Thursday the remaining potential jurors were asked a series of questions about if they had heard about the case in the media, and if they thought they could judge the case based only on the evidence and without prejudice.
Jury selection nearly wasn't completed this week, as the second alternate was chosen with only three people remaining in the pool. If the last alternate could not be selected from the last few people, the judge and lawyers would have had to look to start with a new jury panel on Monday.
Derstine said he hopes his client will get a fair trial.
"One never knows very much about a jury, but looking in their faces I have exactly the same confidence as you might have," he said. "They look like a bunch of good, honest citizens ready to do their duty."
During the trial the jury is set to visit the site where Tori's body was found.
A pre-trial motion was heard before jury selection dealing with where Rafferty would sit during the trial. Accused people are sometimes allowed to sit at the counsel table with their lawyers instead of the dock, which is traditionally where they sit.
The court decided that due to evidence from an officer in charge of court security that "the nature and history of this case requires a high level of security," and other factors, Rafferty would sit in the dock.
The trial is expected to draw extensive media coverage, so Superior Court Judge Thomas Heeney has set some ground rules. Reporters can use devices such as laptops or smartphones but won't be allowed to transmit from the courtroom.
However, a satellite courtroom will be set up for the trial, from which reporters will be allowed to electronically transmit information. Members of the public won't be permitted to use personal electronic devices in either courtroom.