Two former girlfriends of a Halifax man convicted in the violent death of Montreal-born businesswoman and yoga instructor Kristin Johnston testified Friday at his parole eligibility hearing, describing him as being controlling and prone to radical mood swings.
Nicholas Butcher was convicted of second-degree murder in April after a jury found he stabbed the 32-year-old woman to death. The conviction carries an automatic life sentence, but a hearing to determine when Butcher will be able to apply for parole is being held in Nova Scotia Supreme Court.
Prosecutor Carla Ball told Justice Joshua Arnold that the Crown intended to call witnesses that would provide evidence to “highlight the character of the offender.”
Kathleen Byford-Richardson, his former girlfriend, described her relationship with Butcher as “very romantic,” but that it became riddled with conflict.
She told the court that he became anxious in social situations and controlling of her behaviour.
Byford-Richardson said she called Halifax police after Johnston’s death, worried she had experienced a similar pattern of behaviour at the end of her relationship with him.
“I felt guilty I hadn’t reported what I experienced at the time,” she told the court.
She told the court that she started dating Butcher in 2007 and they were together for about 2 1/2 years before she broke it off.
She claimed that during an argument he tried to push her from behind and spat on her at their shared apartment in Montreal.
After their breakup, Byford-Richardson said the two stayed in contact after he moved to Hamilton, Ont., for school in the fall of 2009.
A couple of months later, Byford-Richardson said he returned to the city and the two agreed to meet for dinner and a movie. After dinner, she told the court they drove to Parc Jean-Drapeau east of Montreal, where he presented her with a ring.
But when she declined to accept the ring, she alleged that his behaviour changed “radically.”
WATCH: Closing arguments delivered at Nicholas Butcher’s murder trial
Byford-Richardson told the court the situation became “unhinged” and she learned he had been lying to her about his time in Hamilton and the purpose of his visit to Montreal.
She said his “rapid speech” and “confessions” made her worried, and she asked him to take her home.
“No one knew where I was,” Byford-Richardson said. “He was agitated, his hands were shaking.”
Butcher’s former girlfriend said she learned that he had been reading her emails and checking her Facebook account after their breakup.
She claimed Butcher admitted that – after breaking up – he had gone through the garbage at their shared apartment, and he confronted her about finding used condoms.
The next day she said he began sending her insulting text messages, which she said were a “radical departure of how he’d been leading up to the night of the ring.”
Byford-Richardson said out of concern for his safety, she called his mother in Halifax and later she learned Butcher had been admitted to the psychiatric unit of a Montreal hospital.
The Crown also called a second witness, Olivia Hasler, who dated Butcher in Halifax from roughly 2013 to the spring of 2015.
Hasler told the court Butcher “had a difficult time resolving fairly minor conflicts.”
While Hasler said Butcher was never physically violent with her, she claimed he would become “riled up,” clutching his hands and “vibrating with feelings” during arguments.
She said at times, Butcher would become depressed and have a hard time getting out of bed.
Hasler said he would become upset in social situations, once leaving a wedding reception because she hadn’t paid enough attention to him.
“There was a big blow out with tears, and we were not able to return to the party,” she said.
Justice Joshua Arnold allowed the evidence presented by the two women to be considered by the court “on a balance of probabilities” to give a “full picture” of Butcher’s behaviour. However, the judge said the evidence would not be eligible to be considered as an “aggravating factor” in his parole eligibility decision.
Crown lawyer Carla Ball said 15 victim impact statements had been filed and the court was expected to hear several of those read aloud in court Friday. The court was also expected to hear final submissions from the Crown and the defence.
Butcher’s sentence of life imprisonment comes with a “parole ineligibility” period of between 10 years and 25 years.
The judge is expected to reserve his decision.