The first-degree murder trial of Trent Butt has wrapped up in St. John’s.
Butt, who has admitted to killing his five-year-old daughter Quinn at his home in Carbonear in 2016 but says he didn’t plan or intend to do it, was the first and only witness called to testify by defence lawyers Derek Hogan and Shanna Wicks.
The courtroom gallery was overflowing as Butt, 40, took the stand and told the room the day he killed his daughter had started off as an “ordinary day.” His father visited, he said, before he and Quinn played outside. Later, she took a bath while he made supper, and they watched a movie together.
Butt said he put Quinn to bed when she grew tired, and he then began to make notes in a day planner he kept on the advice of his lawyer, to keep track of his access to Quinn in the midst of a divorce from her mother, Andrea Gosse. He began “reliving the troubles of the past,” he said.
“I was crying, upset. I had a sense of hopelessness that no one was taking my side,” he told the court.”
“What do you recall after that?,” asked his lawyer, Derek Hogan.
“The next thing I knew, I was kneeling next to Quinn in the master bed. I tried to wake her. I gently shook but she wouldn’t wake up. At that point I realized she was gone,” Butt said. He said he didn’t call 911.
“I don’t remember doing anything to Quinn. I don’t know what happened. Once I thought about it, I concluded that I must have suffocated her. I felt overcome with grief, I was crying, I was sick to my stomach and felt like I was going to throw up.”
Upon cross-examination, prosecutor Lloyd Strickland pointed out Butt’s conclusion that he killed Quinn was a strange one.
“You didn’t think, I don’t know, that she could have choked or had an anaphylactic shock reaction to something? A typical parent wouldn’t come to the conclusion that they had killed their child,” Strickland said.
“There was no other explanation,” Butt replied.
Butt testified he had decided, once he realized Quinn was dead, to kill himself and set the home on fire. He wrote a 10-page note entitled “Final Words” and put it in his truck with some treasures belongings, he said. He then cut his neck - though he said he doesn’t remember doing it - doused his home in gasoline, cut his wrist and laid down in bed next to Quinn.
“I was kissing her on the forehead and telling her how much I loved her,” he told the court, crying. “I remember praying to God over and over for forgiveness and asking God to take us into Heaven. Then I guess I lost consciousness.”
There were tears from both sides of the courtroom as Butt spoke of his daughter’s final moments.
Hogan asked Butt about the “Final Words” note, in which Butt had spent much time describing his hatred and animosity towards his ex-wife and his despair over what he felt was a lack of access to Quinn. At one point in the letter he wrote, “Andrea, Quinn and I are dead because of you!”
“The allegation from the Crown is that you killed Quinn to punish Andrea. What’s your response to that?,” Hogan asked his client.
“No,” Butt replied. “If I wanted to do something to Andrea, I guess I could have, but I wouldn’t never have hurt Quinn (for that).”
“But the letter says ‘Quinn and I are dead because of you,’” Hogan pointed out.
“Yeah. A lot of that had to do with what I had been through with Andrea,” Butt responded. He earlier told the court he had been charged in 2014 with assaulting Gosse and had been banned from contacting her, which had frustrated his access to Quinn. The charges were dismissed the next year, he said.
On cross-examination, Strickland pointed out the neatness of Butt’s handwritten note and his attention to detail the night Quinn died, including his disconnection of the smoke detectors in his home before setting it on fire.
The Crown alleges Butt had devised a murder-suicide plot to kill Quinn and himself and then burn down the home in an effort to hurt Gosse. The defence alleges there was no planning or deliberation by Butt when it came to Quinn’s death. Both elements are necessary for a conviction of first-degree murder, but not for second-degree murder, which carries a lighter jail sentence.
Full story to follow.