Southern Ontario is today dealing with some tough stuff. Sentencing for Michael Rafferty, who was found guilty of kidnapping, assaulting and murdering 8 year Victoria (Tori) Stafford in 2009, happened today in London, ON. When the guilty verdict came in on Friday, most folks were pleased, but then of course there’s the discussion on what justice means in a case like this.
Rafferty will be going to prison for a long time (until at least 2034). 1st degree murder means automatic life sentence (25 years before eligible for parole). The 10 years for each of the other two charges will be served concurrently.
But is that justice? Does placing this man in a government funded facility for 25 years make the situation better? I caught a clip on the news of Tori’s dad saying that the guilty verdict does not bring Victoria back, but does mean this man won’t be able to hurt anyone else.
So here’s the dilemma- what is justice really? Is punishing some for their crimes just, or simple retribution? Are we not called in the Bible to foster/facilitate reconciliation and restoration?
In this case, nothing will restore the Stafford family. Nothing seems “just”. Most of us would have the initial instinct to do far more to this man than cage him for 25 years. I shudder when I think of the nasty things I am inclined to want to see happen to him. But that won’t make things any better- except perhaps to alleviate the initial anger.
But does punishing an already broken man make things better? He is broken. We all are. But this man’s brokenness is of a whole other magnitude. The judge at sentencing today called Rafferty a “monster”. But still, somehow, he is actually made in the image of God. This man doesn’t need to be punished, but to have his life altered, reversed, redeemed from what it is. He needs salvation.
What if we prayed for Michael Rafferty?
What if we loved Michael Rafferty?
Could we? Should we?
Now don’t me wrong here, I’m not saying he shouldn’t go to jail. It would be a heinously unjust decision to allow this man access to other children. As a father of two daughters, I know I don’t want Michael Rafferty on the streets. I also don’t want someone made in the image of God left to “rot in jail”. Yes, as deplorable and difficult as it may be to see that in writing (I want to vomit typing it), Michael Rafferty is a human being, made in God’s image, albeit, one who has rejected God’s design to such an extent that any remnant of the image is so obscured we may never see it. But we are called to love our enemies; to forgive those who trespass against us; and to reconcile sinners to God. Somehow, we need to make his incarceration a means to bring the gospel.
I don’t want to really. But I know we have to.
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
Sometimes our calling is hard. Sometimes “eye for an eye” makes more sense. What Michael Rafferty has done may be the most heinous kind of evil- disturbing, vomit-inducing, rage inspiring kind of evil. But we are told to overcome evil with good.
So what does that mean for us? How do we overcome this evil with good? How do we do what is best for Tori’s family, while still trying to bring goodness to Michael Rafferty, and his partner in this, Terri-Lynne McClintic? I don’t think we’ll ever know.