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Panel reserves decision in Nicholas Butcher’s murder conviction appeal

Man convicted for killing girlfriend in 2016 appealing conviction
WATCH: A three-member panel heard the appeal Wednesday for the second degree-murder conviction and sentencing of Nicolas Butcher. Alicia Draus has more.

A panel of judges has reserved their decision at the appeal for a Halifax man convicted of second-degree murder for killing his girlfriend.

Nicholas Butcher was found guilty by a jury in 2018, of stabbing 32-year-old Kristin Johnston to death on March 26, 2016.

READ MORE: Nicholas Butcher to serve at least 15 years in prison before he can apply for parole

The conviction carries an automatic life sentence, but Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Joshua Arnold ruled in August that Butcher would be able to apply for parole after serving 15 years, less 880 days for time served.

While the original notice of appeal had four grounds, lawyer Jonathan Hughes said they were dropping the ground that Justice Joshua Arnold’s charge to the jury was unduly long and complicated.

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The three grounds the appeal was based on were that Justice Arnold erred in admitting contested antemortem hearsay statements; that Justice Arnold erred in allowing evidence of bad character because it offered a false impression to the jury; and that the parole ineligibility period was manifestly unfit.

During the original trial, the court heard Butcher placed a pillow over the head of his girlfriend Kristin Johnston and stabbed her repeatedly while she slept in her bed at home.

Butcher and Johnston had been dating, but evidence presented in court showed Johnston was attempting to break up with Butcher around the time of her death.

Kristin Johnston’s final hours detailed by friends at Butcher murder trial in Halifax
Kristin Johnston’s final hours detailed by friends at Butcher murder trial in Halifax

Butcher was not present at court for the appeal and was represented by lawyer Jonathan Hughes. Hughes focused most of his argument on the third ground of appeal that the parole ineligibility was unfit and cited case law that he said pointed to a 12 to 13 parole ineligibility period being more appropriate.

“The cases that I cited, that I think differentiate the 15-year parole ineligibility period from this, are cases like Callum and Macrae where there were significant effort done to either dispose of the body or cover up the crime,” said Hughes.

“That wasn’t the case here. It was almost instantaneously known to the police what had happened. Mr Butcher made no effort to cover up what had happened, or dispose of Miss Johnston’s body.”

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The appeal case was heard by a three-person panel; Justice Duncan Beveridge, Justice Cindy Bourgeois and Justice Derrick. The presiding judges told the Crown he only needed to answer to the third ground of appeal.

READ MORE: Court hears from convicted killer Nicholas Butcher’s former girlfriends

Lawyer Glenn Hubbard represented the Crown and said that the criminal code considers domestic incidents to be an aggravating factor and therefor require a harsher sentence.

“The fact that this was a domestic homicide combined with the fact that the victim was in her most vulnerable when she was attacked raises it beyond the minimum 10-year parole ineligibility,” he said.

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The panel has reserved their decision to a later date.