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'Lovely' Tori Stafford left school minute late on day she was killed: teacher

Accused Michael Rafferty is shown in court in London, Ont., March 5, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tammy Hoy

LONDON, Ont. - On the last day of Victoria Stafford's life, the "lovely little girl" used a computer to research plants, got her tights wet by jumping in puddles, and had a time out for goofing around, her teacher testified Tuesday.

The Grade 3 student also asked for permission to run back to her classroom at the end of the day to retrieve a pair of earrings she had forgotten, Jennifer Griffin-Murrell told court. Tori went to get them and left about one minute after the bell, behind her classmates.

Because the girl wasn't wearing the butterfly earrings, Griffin-Murrell asked her if she had found them, and Tori said she had.

"I said, 'OK, hon, we'll see you tomorrow'," Griffin-Murrell told court.

She never saw Tori again. The eight-year-old vanished shortly after leaving school that day April 8, 2009. Three months later, her partially clothed remains were found in garbage bags under a pile of rocks in a field more than 100 kilometres from her home in Woodstock, Ont.

The Crown alleges Michael Rafferty and Terri-Lynne McClintic, who has already pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, snatched Tori outside her school and, within hours, sexually assaulted and killed her.

Rafferty is now on trial, having pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and kidnapping.

Tori was killed by multiple blows to the head with a hammer and had blunt injuries to her torso that lacerated her liver and fractured her ribs, court has heard.

Griffin-Murrell wept as she described the "happy-go-lucky, energetic" student.

"She was a caring little girl, very sensitive," Griffin-Murrell said, her voice breaking. "She was kind of like a mother hen to a lot of the younger kids in the (the split Grade 2/3) class. She always wanted to help."

Wearing a grey suit, blue-collared shirt and a diamond checkered tie, Rafferty took off his glasses and wiped his reddened eyes as the teacher talked about the "bubbly and enthusiastic" Tori.

"She had a little spunk," Griffin-Murrell said. "She was very dramatic in a way that she liked music and drama, and always liked to do little role plays or air bands. She was just a lovely little girl."

The last day Tori would spend at school was routine, Griffin-Murrell said. Her 21 students did language lessons, writing, sharing time, math and research on computers about plants.

After the second recess, Tori asked if she could call home to get a change of clothes because she got wet by falling in a puddle, Griffin-Murrell said. Tori later admitted she and her friends had actually been jumping in the puddles.

"She wasn't that wet, so I just told her she was going to have to wait for her tights or her leotards to dry ... and that's what happens when you play in the puddles," the teacher said.

During art time, Tori was "being funny," pretending to cut decals off a friend's shirt, and Griffin-Murrell explained she shouldn't do that, the teacher testified.

"She had a little sit at her desk for a minute until she thought she could use the materials correctly," she said. "She knew what she was doing and we had a little chuckle about that."

Griffin-Murrell said Tori was inquisitive, well-liked and was "obsessed" with the TV show "Hannah Montana."

Tori was wearing a "Hannah Montana" T-Shirt the day she died. When her remains were found 103 days later near Mount Forest, Ont., she was wearing nothing else.

Det. Const. Robin Brocanier showed the court surveillance video of McClintic, wearing a white puffy coat, walking with Tori up the street from her school at 3:32 p.m. on April 8. One clip of that surveillance video was released publicly while Tori was missing, but other views from different cameras were also shown.

Brocanier told the jury the cameras show a car "of interest" with black rims travelling from the direction of the school and pulling into a retirement home parking lot up the street. Cameras show McClintic and Tori walking toward that parking lot, the detective said, then later a car is seen driving north toward a road that leads to the highway.

Brocanier also showed video of a similar car with black rims pulling into a nearby gas station parking lot at 3:20 p.m. that day, with the driver wearing a white coat or a white top.

In the surveillance video, McClintic and Tori are seen walking past someone standing on the sidewalk. Laura Perry testified today that she was that person, waiting there for her seven- and nine-year-old sons. She had recently started waiting a small distance away from the school so they could get a taste of independence walking a short distance alone within her line of sight to meet their mom, Perry said.

She took note of McClintic and Tori as they passed because Tori was in her youngest son's class and she had never seen McClintic around the school before. Perry didn't hear them say anything and McClintic was not touching Tori, she said, but looked like she was in a hurry.

"She was walking very fast, like they were hurried along, like they were walking somewhere with a purpose," Perry said.

She agreed under cross-examination that the two didn't seem like strangers.

Perry helped police come up with a composite sketch of the woman she saw walking with Tori that day, and she wiped her eyes as it was shown to the jury.

Earlier, Ontario Superior Court Judge Thomas Heeney explained that an in-camera session Monday from which the public and reporters were excluded was held to protect the privacy of the jurors.

The court had learned that someone posted a message on Facebook claiming to be related to a member of the jury, who had made "disparaging comments" about Rafferty.

Jurors had been asked whether they recognized the poster's name or image and none of them did, Heeney said. It was later discovered the person was actually referring to someone who was called for jury duty but excused.


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