Man killed daughter to make his estranged wife suffer, Crown tells murder trial
Trent Spencer Butt is seen in the defendant's box, at St. John's Supreme Court, in St. John's on Thursday, March 14, 2019. Butt faces charges of first degree murder and arson in the death of his five-year-old daughter, Quinn. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Holly McKenzie-Sutter
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, March 14, 2019 1:12PM EDT
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -- A Crown prosecutor says a Newfoundland man murdered his five-year-old daughter in a calculated plan to inflict suffering on her mother, his estranged wife.
A St. John's, N.L., court heard closing arguments Thursday in the trial of Trent Butt, who is accused of the first-degree murder of his daughter Quinn in his Carbonear, N.L., home in April 2016.
The courtroom was packed after an emotionally wrought trial that already heard from fire and medical experts, Butt himself and Quinn's mother, Andrea Gosse.
The jury deliberated for about four hours Thursday before retiring for the evening, and will resume Friday morning.
No one is arguing outright that Butt didn't kill his daughter. The jury is being asked to decide whether the death was planned and deliberate, which would mean Butt is guilty of first-degree murder, or if he is guilty of a lesser charge.
Butt testified earlier that he did not remember killing Quinn, but said he found himself over her body and concluded he must have suffocated her.
Butt said he decided to take his own life and set fire to his home, leaving a lengthy suicide note in his truck that mostly detailed his frustrations with Gosse.
In the letter, Butt wrote he did not know how he killed Quinn and stated “I have thought about it for some time.”
“Quinn is with me now because I could not die knowing she would be left with Andrea,” a section of Butt's letter read, repeated aloud in the provincial supreme court Thursday.
Crown lawyer Lloyd Strickland pointed to the note, which he described as “rife with hatred” of Gosse, as proof that Butt planned to kill Quinn to keep her from her mother.
Strickland argued that considering Butt planned to take his own life, he did not try to hide his true motivations in the note.
“In this letter, Trent Butt told the world exactly what was in his head,” Strickland said.
“These words amount to a confession of first-degree murder.”
Strickland argued that Butt's actions surrounding the killing -- like purchasing an unusual quantity of gasoline and disconnecting the home's smoke alarms -- were part of his “cold, calculated” murder-arson-suicide plot to cause Gosse pain.
Both Strickland and Justice Donald Burrage drew attention to Butt's earlier testimony that he reacted to Quinn's death by concluding he must have suffocated her, rather than trying to resuscitate her or calling for medical assistance.
Butt's lawyer, Derek Hogan, told the court there was no way to know Butt's thought process on the night Quinn was killed.
Hogan argued the letter outlined a plan for suicide and not murder, leaving reasons to doubt whether Butt planned the killing in advance.
“We've got a collection of maybes that adds up to a maybe. Maybe he planned to killed Quinn, maybe he didn't,” Hogan said.
“There are reasons to doubt the murder was deliberate.”
In his charge to the jury, Burrage said the evidence had already proven Butt unlawfully killed Quinn, and that jurors must determine whether Butt planned the killing in advance.
Burrage also asked the jurors to put aside their emotions while considering the case's distressing evidence.
“This has proven to be an emotionally charged trial. A man stands charged with the first-degree murder of his own daughter,” Burrage said.
“You must put aside any feelings of emotion you may harbour, consider the evidence with an open mind and make your decision without sympathy, prejudice or fear.”