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'I don't remember doing anything to Quinn,' Trent Butt tells jury


Lawyers will present closing arguments in Butt's murder trial in St. John's on Thursday

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

There were tears on both sides of the gallery in Courtroom No. 4 in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John's Tuesday morning.

On one side sat Quinn Butt's mother, Andrea Gosse, and her loved ones, listening to harrowing details of the cherished five-year-old's final moments on Earth from the mouth of the man who killed her.

Quinn Butt. - Contributed
Quinn Butt. - Contributed

On the other side sat the loved ones of Trent Butt, who were also mourning the little girl they adored, while being forced to accept that he took her life.

The rest of the public space was overflowing with journalists, police officers, lawyers, court officials and others who had come for a glimpse of Butt's defence to the charge of first-degree murder.

Butt, 40, was the first and only witness called by defence lawyers Derek Hogan and Shanna Wicks to testify at his murder trial.

As the jury first heard in Hogan's opening statements last week, Butt has acknowledged he killed Quinn in his Carbonear home during the early morning hours of April 24, 2016 before cutting his own neck and wrist, dousing the house in gasoline and setting it alight with the two of them inside.

While Crown prosecutors Lloyd Strickland and Jennifer Lundrigan have argued Butt devised a murder-suicide plan and killed his little girl in an effort to punish Gosse in the midst of a divorce, Butt insists he did not plan or intend to kill Quinn and doesn't remember doing it.

He has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, which requires planning and deliberation for a conviction. A second-degree murder charge, which carries a lesser jail sentence, does not require planning and deliberation for a conviction.

Butt told the court he had suffered from depression, anxiety and social isolation as a result of his separation from Gosse, saying he had lost friends and was the subject of gossip when he was charged in 2014 with assaulting her. He was forced to sign a court order not to contact Gosse, he said, and it frustrated his access to Quinn as a result. He said the assault charge was dismissed the following year. Butt spoke of not being able to sleep or eat, of becoming a safety hazard in his job as a journeyman electrician because of his inability to concentrate, and of contemplating suicide in December 2015.

"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." — Trent Butt

2016 was worse, he told the jury.

"I didn't have anyone to turn to and I felt alone," he said.

When asked by Hogan how he felt about a trip to Florida Gosse had planned with Quinn for the end of April, he said he didn't disagree with it, since it was good for Quinn, but he wasn't pleased to be the "parent left out."

April 23 started as an ordinary day, Butt testified. His father came for a visit, and later he and Quinn played outside, making snowballs. She had a bath while he cooked supper, and later they watched a movie. When she grew tired, he put her to bed.

Sheriff’s officers prepare to escort Trent Butt from the witness stand after his testimony Tuesday.
Sheriff’s officers prepare to escort Trent Butt from the witness stand after his testimony Tuesday.

"What do you recall after that?" Hogan asked.

"The next thing I remember, I was kneeling next to Quinn on the bed in the master bedroom," Butt said, crying. "I tried to wake her. I gently shook her, but she wouldn't wake up. At that point I realized she was gone.

"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."

On Monday, the court heard from medical examiner Dr. Simon Avis, who testified Quinn's body showed no definitive signs of a particular cause or manner of death, something that happens in about five per cent of cases. He concluded she had died before the fire ravaged the home - since her airways and blood had no traces of smoke or elevated levels of carbon monoxide - and he told the court he couldn't rule out the possibility she had been suffocated. She had minor injuries to her lip and chin consistent with her teeth having pressed up against them, he said.

"I felt overcome with grief. I was crying, sick to my stomach and felt like throwing up," Butt testified about his reaction to realizing what he had done. "I just picked her up in my arms and was telling her over and over how much I loved her."

He didn't call 911, he said, but decided at that point to take his own life as well. He told the court he went to the living room and got a notebook and penned a letter, which he titled "Final Words," because he "wanted to let people know what I was going through." He then put the letter in a plastic container with some of his treasured belongings and put the container on the back seat of his truck.

The letter, which was entered as evidence on Monday, was 10 pages long, and spoke mostly of Butt's love for Quinn and his hatred of her mother.

"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, making me sick to my stomach and tears in my eyes."

When asked by Hogan to elaborate about having "thought about it for some time," Butt said he had been referring to wondering how he had killed Quinn, in the period of time between her death and the point he wrote the letter.

"Why do you think you suffocated her?" Hogan asked.

"I didn't have any place in her life and Andrea wouldn't recognize me as an equal parent," Butt said, adding that once he realized Quinn was dead, he told himself she was better off in heaven than with Gosse.

Hogan asked Butt to explain parts of his note where he expressed animosity toward Gosse, in particular a paragraph where he wrote, "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 also pressed his client to explain why he had written, "Quinn is with me now because I could not die knowing she would be left with Andrea."

"Were you thinking about killing Quinn?" Hogan asked.

"No. This letter is about suicide, not homicide," Butt replied.

Butt told the court he had been holding Quinn's body when he decided how he was going to take his own life. He disconnected the home's smoke alarms so neighbours wouldn't be alerted to the fire, he said, then poured gasoline in the basement and in the dining room. Though the bed in the master bedroom had been soaked in gas, it hadn't been intentional, he said, and had happened when he had laid a gas can on the bed and accidentally tipped it over when he leaned in to kiss his daughter.

Butt said he had set the fire in an effort to leave a "clean slate" for his loved ones, and used gas from three red cans he had on hand for his lawn mower, his weed trimmer, an old Ski-Doo that his brother had borrowed and his father's ATV, which he often used to plow his driveway.

Butt told the jury that once he had injured himself and started the fire, he got in bed with Quinn.

"I remember praying to God over and over for forgiveness and asking God to take us into heaven. Then I guess I lost consciousness." — Trent Butt

"I was kissing her on her forehead and telling her how much I loved her. I remember praying to God over and over for forgiveness and asking God to take us into heaven. Then I guess I lost consciousness."

An excerpt from Trent Butt’s “Final Words” letter.
An excerpt from Trent Butt’s “Final Words” letter.

On cross-examination, Strickland questioned Butt about being able to put together an organized and thoughtful plan, even though he was distressed and overcome with grief.

"I'm struck by how neat this is," Strickland said of the "Final Words" note. "Is there a single letter that's crossed out at all?"

Butt pointed to one in the second paragraph.

"Were your hands shaking at all? Were any of these words or letters smudged by a tear?"

"Not that I can recall," Butt replied.

"In this 'Final Words' letter, is there any mention of you being sad and depressed?" Strickland asked Butt.

"Not in the letter, no. I think if you're writing a suicide letter, it speaks for itself."

Strickland pointed to the part in the letter where Butt had written about not wanting to leave Quinn with her mother, asking him if that wasn't evidence that he had planned to kill himself, before he killed his daughter.

Butt said the letter had been written after Quinn was dead, and contained conclusions he had reached at that moment. He said he hadn't wanted to cause Gosse maximum pain, but wanted to "hold her accountable for certain things."

The prosecutor noted Butt's assumption, upon realizing Quinn had died, that he had killed her. It was an odd thing to conclude, Strickland alleged.

"You didn't think, I don't know, that she might 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.

When Butt's cross-examination was finished, his lawyers rested their case, wrapping up the evidence in the murder trial at least two weeks earlier than scheduled.

Closing statements to the jury are set to take place Thursday morning.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury


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