Case puts top cop to the test
OPP Det. Staff Sgt. Jim Smyth has faced down murderers and elicited confessions of horrible crimes without allowing a breach of his controlled, calm demeanour.
In a London courtroom Friday, he spoke with the same measured manner to jurors as he does in videotaped interviews of killers.
It took him considerable effort, however, to keep his composure at the memory of finding a little girl’s body in a lonely place, under a rock pile under an evergreen tree July 19, 2009.
“I walked over to the closest tree to the rock pile. I pulled one of the branches back and I observed some rocks . . . right beside the tree trunk,” Smyth testified. He paused for 11 quiet seconds before continuing.
“I could see a portion of a garbage bag underneath the rocks. I moved one of the rocks aside. I touched the bag because I did nike shoes n’t know if it was a piece of scrap . . . and it was soft.”
After months of an intense police search, on a drive by himself just to see what he could see, Smyth realized “we had finally found Victoria Stafford.”
Step by step Friday, Smyth took jurors trying Michael Rafferty for the first degree murder of the eight year old Woodstock girl, known as Tori to family, on the long journey to find her body.
Photograph by photograph, jurors saw how police removed each of the rocks Smyth ha nike shoes d found, the largest almost 50 kilograms in weight, to reveal what lay underneath.
Jurors showed no emotion and Tori’s family members appeared equally stoic as the photographs of Tori’s remains in the garbage bags were shown on courtroom screens.
Rafferty av nike shoes oided looking at the photographs on the screen in front of him, keeping his eyes focused on the ceiling. He has pleaded not guilty to first degree murder, kidnapping and sexual assault causing bodily harm in Tori’s disappearance April 8, 2009, while walking home from school.
A police officer for 23 years, 12 in the OPP’s behavioural sciences criminal profiling unit, Smyth has gained a reputation as one of Ontario’s top interrogators, getting Michael Briere to admit to killing 10 year old Holly Jones in Toronto in 2003, and Russell Williams to admit to killing Cpl. Marie France Comeau in 2009 and Jessica Lloyd in 2010.
His questioning of Terri Lynne McClintic on May 19, 2009, led to her confessing a role in Tori’s killing and implicating Rafferty, her boyfriend at the time.
Beginning that evening, McClintic accompanied police on several searches for Tori’s body, which she said was hidden somewhere north of Guelph nike shoes . McClintic described a laneway that ran off a rural road, dipping over a culvert before rising to a rock pile. Tori’s body was wrapped in garbage bags and covered with rocks near a tree at the end of that rock pile, she told police. She helped police draw a sketch of a house that sat at an angle across the road from the laneway.
“There were certainly times that we thought we were close,” Smyth said of the many failed searches.
A break came July 17, when cellphone records showed a tower near Mount Forest had received a call April 8 from Rafferty’s phone. That was a Friday, and on his way back from Orillia to Woodstock on Sunday, Smyth cut across country to check out the Mount Forest area.
“I certainly wasn’t searching that day. I wanted to see what type of landscape was in that area.”
McClintic didn’t remember driving through any major towns after heading north from Guelph, so he focused his efforts south of Mount Forest. On Concession Rd. 6 North, he drove by a nice looking bungalow, thinking nothing of it at first.
“As I passed the house, I noticed it was on a significant angle to the road.”
He turned around and was struck by the similarities between the house and the police sketch. Across the road from the house ran a single gravel laneway that matched McClintic’s descriptions. Smyth drove to the crest of the laneway and parked his car.
“Once I stood up, just above the grass, I could see a rock pile.”
Only when asked by Crown Attorney Michael Carnegie did Smyth offer more information.
“There was a slight odour of what I believed to be decomposition.”
Of his discovery a few moments later, he acknowledged, “it took a moment to sink in.” Then the years of police training kicked in and he assessed the scene, retraced his steps without disturbing the area, then called for reinforcements.
Tori’s remains were removed at noon the next day and taken to the chief coroner’s office for a post mortem. Smyth watched the post mortem, which identified Tori’s remains through dental records and determined the preliminary cause of death as “blunt force trauma to the head.”
When Smyth finished testifying and left the courtroom, some of Tori’s family gave him a grim faced nod, acknowledging again what he had done for them, ending their anguished wait for their girl to come home.
Smyth’s last day on the Victoria Stafford case was July 31, 2009. His hands folded in front of him, Smyth described in a quiet voice his last duty to the girl, as a police officer and a man.