Although not representing the family of slain Ontario schoolgirl Tori Stafford, lawyer Tim Danson has had much to say about the trial of accused child killer Michael Rafferty, as ongoing testimony from his ex-girlfriend, Terri-Lynne McClintic, paints a vile picture of depravity not unlike the Bernardo/Homolka affair which made him famous.
Danson represented the families of murdered teenagers Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French, and spent the next twenty years working alongside those families in their numerous legal battles.
The parents experience a “unique dichotomy,” Danson said. On one hand, they do not want to hear about the terror and anguish of their child’s final moments. On the other hand, they feel they must.
“They were not able to be with their child when it was important to protect them, so not being in the courtroom in solidarity with them is unthinkable. If they're not there, they feel like they've abandoned their child.”
Sitting through the trial also helps bring a degree of closure, he added.
“They need to know the truth because without having answers to their questions, they cannot move forward.”
But there is some evidence that families do not need to see or hear, and Danson has acted as a buffer, protecting them against the worst of it, such as gruesome autopsy and crime scene photos or videotapes of the deaths.
In the Bernardo case, for example, Danson watched the videotapes of the sexual attacks and deaths, the crime scene photos and certain other hard evidence, not just for the French and Mahaffy families but for Jane Doe who survived.
He persuaded the families not to be in court when the tapes were played and successfully fought to have the images on the tapes shown only to the judge, jury and court stenographers. The news media and others in the public gallery were limited to hearing the soundtrack.
“I feel incredibly protective of these children and when I see the extent of their violation on videotape, why should anyone else want to see this degradation and humiliation?” Danson asked.
After the appeals process ran its course, he successfully fought on behalf of the families to have the tapes destroyed.
Danson also pushed to have Homolka’s plea bargain nullified on the grounds that she lied to the Crown about her involvement in the deaths. This effort failed, but he was successful in blocking Homolka’s parole to ensure she served her full 12-year sentence for manslaughter. She was released in 2005, while Bernardo is serving a life sentence.