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Trent Butt to testify at his murder trial

Trent Butt prepares to leave the courtroom Monday after his murder trial was adjourned for the day. The Crown has rested its case against Butt, and the defence will call its only witness Tuesday morning: Trent Butt.
Trent Butt prepares to leave the courtroom Monday after his murder trial was adjourned for the day. The Crown has rested its case against Butt, and the defence will call its only witness Tuesday morning: Trent Butt. - Tara Bradbury

‘I will rest happily and peacefully forever with my daughter,’ defendant wrote in suicide note

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

It was the first time since her father went on trial for her murder that the jury got a glimpse of more than the cold, hard, tragic facts about Quinn Butt's death.

It wasn't much - a snippet of audio captured on a surveillance camera set up in the porch of Trent Butt's Carbonear home - but it put a voice and a personality to the five-year-old, known to many who have only ever seen her in a photo as the smiling little girl in the red sweater.

Recorded at 8:39 p.m. on April 23, 2016, there wasn't much to see in the video apart from Butt's red Dodge Ram pickup in the driveway. But off camera, Quinn was excitedly telling her dad about something she had seen on a TV show. Not all of it was audible as the recording was played in the courtroom Monday.

"There's always bad guys," Quinn's voice is heard saying, explaining what seemed to be the plot of a program.

"Oh my goodness," her father replied at one point.

Hours later, Quinn was dead.

Quinn Butt
Quinn Butt

The surveillance video footage showed Butt coming outside in the dark at 2 a.m., the cab light in his truck glowing as he opened the front driver-side door. He appeared to return to the house before going around to open the back passenger door. It was in the backseat on that side that police later found a grey plastic container with some of Butt's possessions and a 10-page note, titled "Final Words," printed in a coiled Hilroy notebook.

"I have taken my daughter's and my own life," wrote Butt, who has acknowledged he penned the note. "I don't know how I did it. How could I end my beautiful, sweet daughter's life? I have thought about it for some time now, making me sick to my stomach and tears in my eyes.”

The next surveillance video shown in court was captured at 4:40 a.m. the same day, and includes the sounds of hurried shouts of men outside, the beating down of a door, smashing glass and a neighbour urgently yelling, "Is there anybody in here? Is there anybody home? Trent?"

Butt, 40, is on trial for the first-degree murder of Quinn early that morning, before he doused his home in gasoline, cut his own neck and wrist, and set the home alight.

He has pleaded guilty to arson and has acknowledged he killed his daughter, but has pleaded not guilty to murder in the first degree, which requires planning and deliberation.

Defence lawyers Derek Hogan and Shanna Wicks have told the court that Butt, who was severely depressed and upset over matters involving his divorce from Quinn's mom and his access to Quinn, can't remember killing her, and didn't plan it or intend for it to happen.

Prosecutors Lloyd Strickland and Jennifer Lundrigan maintain Butt had devised a murder-suicide plan and had every intention of killing Quinn in an effort to hurt her mother.

Butt's "Final Words" speak mainly of his love of Quinn and desire to spend time with her, as well as his animosity toward his ex-wife, Andrea Gosse, and what he believed were her efforts to keep him from Quinn.

"I never killed myself over her. I ended the marriage. I kicked her out. I have no feelings for her, only hate," he wrote.

Butt detailed his hatred for Gosse multiple times. He wrote of his issues with the province's child protection services and family court system, saying it was "destroying men," and he insisted "50/50 custody should be automatic."

He accused Gosse of causing him to kill Quinn.

"Andrea, Quinn and I are dead because of you! I hope you look in the mirror every day knowing that Quinn's blood is on your hands," he wrote.

Butt requested that the items in the container with the letter — including jewelry, photos, old hockey game ticket stubs, his Kindergarten diploma, a signed Maurice Richard hockey puck and a Patrick Roy rookie hockey card — be given to his brother, and noted "there is no money left, no insurance on anything." He apologized to his brother, father and friends.

"I know people will say all kinds of things about me and what I did, but, no matter what, I will rest happily and peacefully forever with my daughter," Butt wrote, before ending the note with, "I love you Quinn!"

Dr. Simon Avis, who was the province's chief medical examiner until his retirement a week ago, took the stand Monday morning. He conducted an autopsy on Quinn the day after she died, and told the court he had been unable to pinpoint a cause of death, something that is not entirely uncommon.

She had, however, died before the fire broke out in the home, Avis said, since there was no trace of smoke in her airways and no abnormal carbon monoxide levels in her blood.

Quinn had very little in the way of visible injuries, Avis said, but did have abrasions on her lip consistent with her teeth having pushed up against it, as well as on her chin.

"Are you able to rule out smothering?" Strickland asked Avis.

"No, sir. (Her death) could very well have been caused by smothering," Avis replied.

He said it isn't common for a smothering victim to have no injuries. He noted Quinn's abrasions could have been a result of attempts by medical personnel to revive her, but "having seen hundreds and hundreds of intubations," he had never experienced that before.

"I know people will say all kinds of things about me and what I did, but, no matter what, I will rest happily and peacefully forever with my daughter." — excerpt from Trent Butt's 10-page note, titled "Final Words."

"There's no technique of intubation where you push on the mouth," he explained.

The court also heard from RCMP Cpl. Peter Gosse, the lead investigator on the murder case, who said police officers had checked surveillance footage from three local gas stations to see if there was evidence of Butt buying the three red gas cans they had found in his torched home. They found nothing.

He said officers also visited the local Wal-Mart, Home Hardware and Canadian Tire stores with the bar code from the plastic container in Butt's truck and were able to track the purchase histories for them. None of them involved Butt, he testified.

On cross-examination, Gosse acknowledged the surveillance camera in Butt's home was motion-activated, but had not recorded every instance of movement outside the home.

The Crown has wrapped up its case against Butt - at least a week earlier than predicted - and the defence will begin its case Tuesday.

Hogan said he and Wicks plan to call only one witness: Trent Butt.

He will take the stand when court resumes Tuesday morning.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury


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