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Michael Rafferty's evil defies explanation

A Facebook photo of Michael Thomas Rafferty who is charged in the death of eight-year-old Victoria Stafford.

The Canadian Press

As Michael Rafferty was led away to begin an automatic life sentence for the murder of Tori Stafford, his empty, utterly unremarkable life offered no answers to the prevailing question: How could a grown man do that to an eight-year-old girl?

Murderers come in all shapes and sizes, and in 30 years of covering crime in Canada and conflict abroad I've encountered most: clumsy gangsters, skilled hit men, jealous husbands, suicide bombers, pedophiles.

Nearly 20 years ago in a St. Catharines courtroom, I locked eyes with Karla Homolka. They were flat, dead. It was like staring at the ocean floor. The Russell Williams story in 2010 dispatched shock waves, not just because of what he did but because of who he was. More recent was the unspeakably sad tale of the Canadian-Afghan Shafia family in which four women were drowned to salvage the arrogant patriarch's "honour."

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But Michael Rafferty was something else.

No secret life of break-ins and stolen underwear as in the Williams case; no warped sense of honour as in Shafia. No evident pathology or rationale, just the "banality of evil," in the overused phrase – used, in fact, repeatedly in the Homolka case.

Seating in the big 14th-floor London courtroom, custom-designed for the big Bandidos biker trial three years ago, was unusual in that the main media were allowed to sit at the lawyers' tables. The arrangement placed me about four metres from Mr. Rafferty during his 10-week trial, next to the two court-security officers who flanked him.

A pale, pudgy figure, visibly heavier than when arrested three years ago, he never seemed rattled, even as the most nightmarish evidence was making spectators cringe. Each day he performed a kind of ritual inside his glass-walled prisoner's box. As the jurors filed in at the back of the cavernous courtroom, he rose and stared at them intently, neck slowly swivelling, until they reached the jury box and sat down. When they departed, he repeated the exercise – a gesture of respect, he would undoubtedly say. But the jurors never returned his confident gaze.

Nor did they see Mr. Rafferty during breaks, when he joked and smirked as he chatted with a defence co-counsel, as if he had not a care in the world. And, of course, they knew nothing about his enthusiasm for child rape and other horrors because the Crown's evidence about his Internet interests was ruled inadmissible.

But the jury probably did notice his attire on one of the trial's most unpleasant days, when pathologist Michael Pollanen detailed the frightful wounds inflicted on Tori, who was kidnapped, raped and beaten to death with a hammer. To the distress of Tori's relatives, seated at the front of the public gallery, Mr. Rafferty sported a crisp new purple shirt – Tori's favourite colour, and her family's emblem.

As the awful autopsy images were flashed on to the screen – Tori's skull was cracked, 16 of her 24 ribs were broken by being stomped upon, and her liver was lacerated – he looked bored, and at one point yawned.

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Before his arrest, Mr. Rafferty described himself on Facebook as "a hopeless romantic … complex, with many layers." He wrote that friends were the most important thing in his life, that he loved "culture," learning about God, and was proud of his "many accomplishments."

In reality, Mr. Rafferty was the consummate loser who craved attention. And now, in the widely watched criminal trial, he was apparently relishing the notoriety.

So what could have turned this man into such a merciless monster? The only two clear facts are that he was a drug addict and was possessed of an unquenchable sex drive. A psychopath? It seems likely. But if he had no empathy for anyone but himself, he readily grasped that others did.

One week before he and the love-struck girlfriend Terri-Lynne McClintic were charged in Tori's death, he visited her in jail where she was being held on an unrelated charge. As she took his hand, he pressed it to her cheek. "You'd do anything for a little bit of love," he said. "Wouldn't you?"

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About the Author

At The Globe and Mail since 1982, in assorted manifestations, chiefly crime reporter, foreign correspondent and member of the Editorial Board, Tim is now retired. More

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