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Fire at Trent Butt's home deliberately set in two spots, investigator says

The back of Trent Butt’s Carbonear home after he set it on fire with himself and the remains of his daughter inside.
The back of Trent Butt’s Carbonear home after he set it on fire with himself and the remains of his daughter inside. - Contributed

Butt's DNA located on gas cans, lighter, box cutter at scene

After the fire at Trent Butt's Carbonear home had been extinguished, after the body of his five-year-old daughter, Quinn, had been lifted from the charred residence by a firefighter, and after police investigators had determined they had a crime scene on their hands, James Barry stepped in.

An expert in fire investigation - and specifically, fire progression and the origin of fires - he had been called to attend the scene at the request of the RCMP, and to compile a report on his findings.

While the front of the home at 12 Hayden Heights looked relatively unharmed, apart from melted siding and blackened eaves, the back of the residence had been ravaged. The entire back of the home was black, with smashed windows and a caved-in roof and splintered window frames.

Down a set of outside steps, Barry went in through the basement door and immediately noticed a suspicious burn pattern, which grew even more suspicious when he saw an open red fuel can on the floor.

The pattern indicated the use of an accelerant in a deliberately set fire, Barry noted. He determined this basement area - right below the master bedroom where Butt and the remains of his daughter, Quinn, had been located - was where the fire had started.

Going upstairs, Barry made note of which doors had been left open and which had been closed during the fire, according to the burn patterns on and around them. In the living room he noticed a lot of smoke damage, but not so much fire damage, though the adjoining open-concept dining area was a different story. There was a particular burn pattern underneath and on top of the dining room table, indicating a fast-burning blaze that had included an accelerant. Another red gas can on the floor confirmed his suspicions.

"There was very little burn pattern between the basement and this area," Barry told the court Friday morning, testifying as the eighth witness for the Crown in Butt's murder trial. "If the fire in the basement caused this fire, we could not find a correlation to it."

A second fire had been intentionally started in the dining room, he concluded.

Barry located a third gas can in the master bedroom, next to the TV stand, near the bed. This was the room in which firefighters had found lifeless Quinn – who was dead before the fire was started - and Butt, who had used a box cutter to slash his wrist and neck after starting the fire.

Barry noticed a lighter on the bedside table, and determined the bedroom door had been closed at the time of the fire. The sheets on the bed appeared to have been doused in gasoline.

Through the reading of a statement of facts agreed upon by Butt, the court learned DNA swabs taken from the three gas cans, the lighter and a box cutter found next to the lighter on the bedside table were forensically tested and had proven to be a match for Butt's DNA.

Two of the red gas cans, which were shown in court earlier in the week, still contain some gas, while blood was still visible on the blade of the box cutter.

Butt is charged with first-degree murder for the death of Quinn, as well as arson. He has pleaded not guilty to the first charge and guilty to the second, though he doesn't deny he killed his daughter. He says he must have done it, since he remembers kneeling beside her after she was dead, but can't remember doing it and didn't plan to do it. He says he decided, after realizing she was dead, to kill himself and burn down his home with the two of them inside.

Evidence of planning and deliberation is needed for a conviction of first-degree murder.

The Crown alleges Butt planned and killed Quinn on purpose in order to hurt her mother, Andrea Gosse, from whom he was separated.

While questioning forensic ID officer Sgt. Chris Saunders on the stand Thursday, the Crown asked if he had located a generator, Ski-Doo, snowblower, ATV, outboard motor or any other equipment needing gasoline on the premises, apart from a lawn mower. Saunders said he hadn't.

Butt's trial adjourned early Friday afternoon, and will continue Monday. Though it had originally been scheduled to last three weeks, testimony has been moving along quicker than planned.

tara.bradbury@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @tara_bradbury


Related story:
Box cutter, lighter, gas cans among items shown to Trent Butt jury Thursday

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