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Rafferty trial hears his car's back seat was thrown out as trash

A missing back seat from the car of the man accused of abducting and killing Tori Stafford was the focus at his trial Thursday, as neighbours and ex-girlfriends gave somewhat conflicting testimony about when the seat was last in his car.

The back seat was gone when police arrested Michael Rafferty in May 2009, and various people have testified about seeing it in the car at points throughout the spring of that year.

But it remains unclear whether it was there on April 8, the day Rafferty allegedly kidnapped Tori in his car with Terri-Lynne McClintic.

Two former neighbours of Rafferty from Woodstock, Ont., testified he put the back seat of his car out for a garbage pickup in mid-April.

Mike Griswold, who lived near Rafferty and his mother, said the back seat was in the car when he helped move Rafferty from Guelph, Ont., to Woodstock in 2008 and in early spring 2009 when he told Rafferty to turn down the music in his car.

Then Griswold noticed the seat sitting out front of the Rafferty household for garbage pickup about April 15, along with a piece of foam. It had a straight cut in one side, he said.

Under cross-examination by Rafferty’s lawyer, Dirk Derstine, Griswold also recalled that he had told police he saw Rafferty take the seat out on March 29, 2009, to install large speakers, and that Rafferty put it in his backyard shed.

McClintic, who is serving a life sentence after pleading guilty to first-degree murder in Tori’s death, told police that Rafferty sexually assaulted the girl in the back seat of his car, and that on their way home after Tori had been killed, Rafferty got her to cut out stained pieces of material and foam.

McClintic, 21, was actually one of several women Rafferty was dating in the months leading up to Tori’s death. Court has so far heard about at least four other women he was seeing in that time frame.

One of them, Melanie LaBute, 39, testified Thursday that Rafferty went into the Staples store where she worked one Tuesday in late March and asked her out by saying he was new in town and wondered if she knew of any good restaurants.

They played pool with some of LaBute’s friends a few days later and when he drove her home that night she said his car looked dirty, was littered with Tim Hortons coffee cups and had blankets draped over the back seat.

“It just made me think of somebody who lived inside their car,” she said.

Rafferty picked LaBute up again the next morning and tried to take her out for breakfast, but he got lost, though it didn’t matter to LaBute at that time because she said she had already decided she wasn’t interested.

“He just seemed really needy to me,” she testified. “He did end up calling…He had just asked, ‘Why haven’t you called me? Is there something wrong?'”

LaBute decided to break things off in person, and that was the last time she saw Rafferty, a few days later in March, she said.

Another woman Rafferty was seeing at the time testified Wednesday that his car had a back seat when she last saw him on March 23, 2009.

Rafferty, 31, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and kidnapping.

Forensic biologist Jennifer McLean also finished her testimony Thursday morning. Court heard from her Wednesday that traces of blood found in Rafferty’s car belonged with near certainty to Tori. The probability that a tiny spot of dried blood on the rubber moulding of the back passenger side door was not Tori’s is one in 150 trillion, she said.

On a gym bag found in the back seat of the car, a bloodstain on the bottom, almost invisible to the naked eye, contained DNA that — with a similarly high probability — came from Rafferty and Tori, court heard.

Under cross-examination Thursday, McLean said that just because the bloodstain contained several DNA profiles does not mean that each person’s DNA came from blood. It also doesn’t mean that the DNA samples were placed in the same spot at the same time, she said.

Two blond hairs were found on a black pea coat Rafferty had that matched the description of one McClintic said was used to cover Tori in the car, court heard. McLean testified Thursday that one of the hairs was from a female, but not Tori or McClintic, and the other hair did not contain enough DNA to be properly tested.