From the Darkness of the Rafferty Trial Comes Hope for the System

by Sitefinity Administrator | Dec 27, 2012

Like most people, I’ve been horrified by the images of unspeakable violence and cruelty that have emerged from the trial of Michael Rafferty.

I couldn’t help but think of my own little girls every time the radio or web gave more details of the atrocity committed by Rafferty and Terri-Lynne McClintic against 8 year-old Victoria Stafford. Even trying to put myself in the shoes of the Stafford family often had me lunging for the mute or the “back” button with a feeling of nausea.

As a parent, I’m tempted to conclude that only dark lessons have come out of the Rafferty trial. It has reminded us that there really are monsters among us, often where we least expect them. They are far more frightening than any creatures of faith or fiction and they don’t exist to torment evil-doers, but prey on the most innocent and vulnerable.

To draw anything remotely positive from this tragedy, I have to look at it from the perspective of a citizen and a lawyer. When I do that, I can say that while this trial has been a social trauma, it has also been a testament to Canadian values and our system of justice.

This is an intensely cynical time. The justice system, and those of us who are its human face, haven’t escaped its scrutiny. Trust in the police is fragile, political parties make points accusing judges of being “activists”, the media is accused of sensationalism and, as always, there are as many lawyer jokes as there are lawyers. People believe the courts are slow, expensive, unfair to victims and lenient towards criminals. Stop me if you’ve heard this fifty times before.

But when you look at the Rafferty trial as a story of justice done, it’s hard not to conclude that the system and the people who embody it didn’t just work in this case; they shone. The examples came from top to bottom:

- There was the evidence of OPP Det.-Staff Sgt. Jim Smyth, who with little more than a description of the crime scene from Terri-Lynne McClintic’s confession and information from a nearby cell tower “pinged” by Rafferty’s phone, located Victoria Stafford’s body in one of several stunning displays of police work on the case.

- There was the jury of our fellow citizens, who put aside jobs, families and lives for more than two months to silently and impartially absorb every horrific detail of a story that will never let them sleep properly again.

- There was Rafferty’s own lawyer, Dirk Derstine, who endured threats to himself and his family to ensure Rafferty was given a proper trial and that, in his words, “if there is a conviction, it is a proper conviction”. The quality defence Rafferty received due to Derstine’s labour will not only help ensure the conviction withstands appeal. It demonstrates that in this country, no one is above or below the law.

- In a much-criticized decision, Justice Thomas Heeney made a pre-trial ruling that excluded evidence seized from Rafferty’s laptop on the basis that it was obtained illegally. As his sentencing remarks later showed, Justice Heeney knew that Rafferty was “a monster.” In his heart, he likely wanted to let the evidence in. But an incorrect ruling on the point could have given Rafferty grounds for appeal. In the end, knowing he would be whipped in the papers for it, Justice Heeney chose to apply the law impartially and have faith that the jury would convict Rafferty without illegal evidence. That call took real courage.

- And finally, there were the surviving victims of the crime – Victoria’s family. Throughout the trial and the sentencing, they comported themselves with a dignity that was deeply humbling. Tori’s father, Rodney, even bought Dirk Derstine a coffee one morning during the trial and shook his hand. That gesture says more about Canadian values than anything else I’ve read about the Rafferty trial.

 

Justice is being served on Michael Rafferty. And it didn’t take a team of navy seals or a lynch mob to do it. It took ordinary people doing their jobs and, in a cynical age, having a little faith in the system.

That doesn’t erase any of the horror of Rafferty’s crime. But it should let us feel that, for all the wrong that occurred here, when it came time for us to address it, we got it right. I take a little hope from that.

Jason Murphy practices family, civil and estates litigation at the law firm of Christie/Cummings in Collingwood. Questions and topics for future articles can be sent to jmurphy@christiecummings.com.

Copyright 2009. All Rights Reserved. Designed by Integra Web Design Barrie. Powered by pavliks.com