Nothing, a little bit or a lot.
Ontario taxpayers won’t know until Aug. 12 at the earliest how much they’ll have to fork over to help Michael Rafferty appeal his conviction for kidnapping, raping and killing eight-year-old Victoria (Tori) Stafford.
Whatever the price tag, it’s going to be too high for the girl’s family, many of them making the four-hour round trip from Woodstock to Toronto Monday for a 15-minute hearing at the Ontario Court of Appeal that decided little, but gave them a chance to stare down the convicted killer for the first time in a year.
“Disgust that we’re even back in the courts again,” is how Rodney Stafford, Tori’s father, described his feelings after the hearing.
Rafferty appeared by video from Kingston Penitentiary.
“I was shaking because all I wanted to do was go through the screen,” Stafford said. “This guy took my daughter, literally took her. She’s gone.”
The idea that taxpayers may have to foot Rafferty’s bill “pissed me off to be honest,” Stafford said.
Tori’s mother, Tara McDonald, didn’t attend.
“I’m tired of him wasting my time. He has wasted my time and the time of all of us,” she said in a telephone interview after the hearing.
Rafferty is serving a life-sentence for the April 2009 kidnapping, sexual assault and first-degree murder of Tori.
The eight-year-old girl was walking home from her Woodstock school when Rafferty’s girlfriend at the time, Terri-Lynne McClintic, lured her into Rafferty’s car with the promise of seeing a puppy.
The couple drove the girl to a remote location near Mount Forest, north of Guelph, where she was raped, killed, buried and abandoned.
Rafferty was found guilty and sentenced to life last May, but has appealed his conviction on the grounds the judge didn’t properly instruct the jury and the jury didn’t properly understand the evidence needed to convict him.
He applied to but was turned down by Ontario’s financially stressed legal aid program, which handicaps the chances of a convict’s success on appeal.
But lawyer Paul Calarco told Appeal Court Justice Kathryn Feldman Monday he has agreed to explore getting a reversal of that decision, or helping Rafferty use Section 684 of the Criminal Code to force the attorney general of Ontario to pay for a lawyer.
Calarco isn’t representing Rafferty, but will report back at Rafferty’s next appearance Aug. 12.
Ontario taxpayers would be on the hook for Rafferty’s appeal either way, but one way could cost a lot more than the other, according to defense lawyer Craig Bottomley, who spoke to reporters outside court and stressed he isn’t representing Rafferty.
Legal aid would cap the hours and price a lawyer could charge for the appeal, he said.
But a lawyer could negotiate a much higher fee for all the hours worked from the attorney general.
“An appeal like this is going to consume hundreds and hundreds of hours. This is going to absorb someone’s practice,” Bottomley said.
The attorney general’s office has a deeper pocket than legal aid, he said, suggesting an appeal under Section 684 could cost taxpayers more money.
“The government is not a poor person trying to pay a lawyer.”
Rafferty’s case has to pass two tests to get money under Section 684. The first test is demonstrating he can’t afford an experienced appeal lawyer on his own.
The second test is proving an appeal would “advance the issues of justice to have the person represented by counsel,” Bottomley said.
“It’s a fairly low test. Not to draw parallels, but Paul Bernardo got it,” Bottomley said.
“Whether he has counsel he has the right to appeal the conviction if there’s an error in law. It will be heard one way or another.”
On screen in the courtroom Monday, Rafferty had the same short hair, glasses and expressionless face he showed through most of his dramatic three-month trial.
Wearing prison blues and sitting down, he provided only short answers in his high-pitched nasal voice.
One bit of news he offered: a transfer to another penitentiary is in the works.
“For the next appearance I will be out of province,” he told the court. That was news to Tori’s family.
Besides her father, Tori’s uncle Rob Stafford and grandmother Doreen Graichen sat in the courtroom at historic Osgoode Hall Monday, staring sternly but silent at the screen.
“We’re four years later and the thing that still lives with me is Victoria’s last three hours,” Rodney Stafford said.