The jury in the murder trial of Trent Butt returned to the courtroom this morning at Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court to ask a question.
The jury, which began deliberations early Thursday afternoon, asked Justice Donald Burrage if they could see the evidence again of the lead RCMP investigator that included surveillance video seized from Butt's home. The video was recorded by a camera set up in a porch window to record movement in the driveway. It shows Butt moving his truck and going out again in the night to put something in the back seat of the truck. It also captured his dauther Quinn's voice hours before her death.
They have asked to listen again to the audio of Butt's own testimony in court.
After the jury finishes listening to the evidence again, it will return to the jury room to continue deliberations.
Jury for accused murderer Trent Butt deliberating their verdict
‘Jurors are not advocates; jurors are judges,’ Justice Donald Burrage says
Acknowledging the trial had been an emotional one, Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court Justice Donald Burrage sequestered the jury in the murder trial of Trent Butt to begin their deliberations Thursday afternoon.
“You must put aside emotions,” he told the jurors. “It’s imperative that you decide this case on a reasoned evaluation of evidence and not an emotional reaction.
“Jurors are not advocates; jurors are judges.”
The jury spent the afternoon in deliberations before clewing up for the night shortly after 5 p.m. They will begin their discussions again at 9 a.m. Friday.
Butt, 40, stands charged with first-degree murder in the April 2016 death of his five-year-old daughter, Quinn. He has admitted to killing Quinn, but says he didn’t plan or intend to kill her, and he doesn’t remember doing it.
Butt testified on Tuesday, telling the court he can only remember kneeling beside Quinn on his bed and realizing she was dead. He said he had concluded he must have smothered her.
Butt told the court he then decided to take his own life as well, and wrote a 10-page letter titled “Final Words” and put it in his truck before dousing his home with gasoline from three gas cans he had on his property. He then disconnected the smoke detectors, cut his neck and wrist, and got in bed with Quinn as the fire burned.
In order to convict him of first-degree murder, the jurors must be unanimously satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Butt planned and deliberately killed his daughter. If they are satisfied instead that he acted in the moment, they must convict him of the lesser charge of second-degree murder. Both charges carry life sentences, with varying minimum years before parole eligibility.
Thursday morning, the defence and Crown lawyers presented their closing submissions to the court, summing up the evidence given during the weeklong trial.
Defence lawyer Derek Hogan referred the jurors to Butt’s testimony, pointing out his assertion that the gasoline had been meant for his lawnmower and Ski-Doo, that he had disconnected the smoke alarms only because he wanted the house to burn and that the reason he had not renewed his house insurance was because he had been attempting to save money.
Prosecutor Lloyd Strickland asked the jurors if three full gas cans seemed reasonable to have on hand, questioned why Butt had not called 911 when he realized Quinn was not breathing and noted Butt’s organized actions after Quinn’s death, despite having allegedly been crying and overcome by grief.
Both lawyers centred their submissions on Butt’s “Final Words” note, in which he wrote mainly about his ex-wife and his hatred toward her.
“I don’t know how I did it. How I could end my beautiful, sweet daughter’s life. I have thought about it for some time now,” Butt wrote in the letter.
“Quinn is with me because I could not die knowing she would be left with Andrea,” he wrote at another point.
“This completely contradicts his testimony, but indicates a clear thought process,” said Strickland, who is prosecuting Butt alongside co-counsel Jennifer Lundrigan.
Butt had already decided to kill himself when he murdered Quinn, Strickland alleged.
“He’s writing out a motive for a crime he can’t even remember committing. Does that make sense to you?”
Strickland asked the jury to consider the neat penmanship in the letter, and suggested the sentence, “I have thought about it for some time now,” is clear evidence of planning.
“Does that letter read like someone who’s overcome with grief?” the prosecutor asked. “Nowhere does it say, ‘I wish I hadn’t done that.’
“These final words are a confession to first-degree murder.”
Hogan, who is representing Butt with co-counsel Shanna Wicks, stressed Butt hadn’t written in his letter that he planned to kill Quinn. Saying his daughter was with him because he couldn’t die leaving her with her mother was a conclusion at which Butt had arrived after Quinn was dead, Hogan said.
“His ‘Final Words’ letter is neatly written, but maybe he’s a neat writer and methodical by nature and he may have taken quite some time to write the letter,” Hogan said, pointing out there was no evidence to pinpoint the length of time between Quinn’s death and the moment Butt had put the letter in his truck so it wouldn’t burn in the fire.
“Take all this together and we have a collection of maybes that adds up to maybe Trent Butt planned to kill Quinn and maybe he didn’t,” Hogan said. “This falls short of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”