Nicholas Butcher found guilty of second-degree murder in Kristin Johnston’s death
A jury has found Nicholas Butcher guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Kristin Johnston.
Butcher, 36, pleaded not guilty to the offence and had been on trial at Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax since early April.
After the verdict was announced, Crown prosecutor Carla Ball said this has been a “very stressful month and certainly a stressful two years for the family and friends of Kristin Johnston,” and says it’s good to see “justice has been done.”
“I expect that they will have some relief and peace,” Ball said. “We are confident the jury took the time that they needed to come to their determination.”
Johnston, 32, was originally from Montreal and a popular yoga instructor in Halifax, at one point even operating her own studio before it closed down about a month before her death.
Her body was found on a blood-soaked mattress in the bedroom at her home in Purcells Cove on March 26, 2016.
“Domestic violence is something that is not unusual, unfortunately,” said Ball.
“It’s a tragic event for everybody involved. It’s a profound loss for somebody who was a profound member, an entrepreneur in this community and it’s a very unfortunate situation, but sadly it’s not uncommon.”
Butcher’s trial lasted more than three weeks.
The Crown alleged that Butcher — a highly educated law school graduate — was heavily in debt and unable to find a job following his graduation.
In her closing arguments, Carla Ball told the jury they believe Nicholas Butcher waited until Kristin Johnston left to meet friends on the night of March 25, 2016, and then used her laptop to read her Facebook messages, where he learned that she wanted to end their relationship.
The Crown alleged that Butcher tracked Johnston down through her private conversations with her friend to Mike Belyea’s home, not once, but twice that night.
Johnston’s friend Lisa Abramowicz testified that the first time Butcher came uninvited to Belyea’s home, Johnston told Abramowicz that she had broken up with Butcher.
The second time, the court heard that Butcher saw Belyea and Johnston kissing in his bed.
Ball said that Johnston and Butcher left Belyea’s apartment together and once the pair were back at Johnston’s Purcells Cove home, the Crown alleges Butcher waited until Johnston was asleep and then stabbed her multiple times in the throat.
Ball said it took Johnston five minutes to die. Afterwards, she alleged that Butcher attempted to kill himself multiple times. The first time by stabbing himself in the neck, the second time by slitting his wrists with a razor blade and finally by cutting off his right hand with a mitre saw before calling 911 to ask for help.
Butcher’s hand was located by police and has since been surgically reattached.
WATCH: Jury in Nicholas Butcher trial hears 911 call
The defence had a different theory about what happened between Butcher and Johnston.
Lawyer Peter Planetta told the jury during his closing remarks on Thursday that Johnston was stressed about her yoga studio closing and described her behaviour after returning to Halifax from a trip to Costa Rica with a friend as erratic.
The only witness to testify for the defence was Nicholas Butcher himself, who spent multiple days on the stand.
After the verdict was handed down, Planetta wouldn’t speak to how Butcher was feeling.
“He was just convicted and that’s not the outcome he was hoping for,” Planetta said. “The case against him was strong.”
Butcher told the court that he woke up on March 26, 2016 to someone on top of him who was stabbing him in the throat.
According to Butcher’s testimony, he said he was able to flip the person over, get the knife and stab the person a few times in the throat. Butcher said it was only after he turned on the light in the bedroom that he realized the person who had attacked him was Johnston and that she was dead.
Planetta told the court that Butcher acted in self-defence and asked that the jury find his client not guilty of the murder charge.
“At the end of the day, at the end of the trial, causation, the fact that he did in fact cause her death was not in question and that’s all that he said in the 911 call”, said Planetta.
Listen to the 911 call made by Nicholas Butcher on March 26, 2016 below.
WARNING: The call contains graphic content and may be disturbing to some.
The jury officially began deliberating on Friday afternoon. In the end, they sided with the Crown and found Butcher guilty of second-degree murder, which carries an automatic life sentence. Butcher showed no emotion inside the courtroom when the verdict was handed down.
“Obviously he was just convicted and he gave evidence and testified that he wasn’t guilty, so it’s not the outcome he was hoping for so he’s probably reacting in accordance with that,” said Planetta.
Parole eligibility can range anywhere from 10 to 25 years and will be determined at a hearing on July 20.
The defence says it’s too early to say whether or not they will appeal the verdict.
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