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'That was my child'
Trent Butt addressed the court Tuesday — the first time he felt he was able to speak freely, he said, about the night he killed his five-year-old daughter, Quinn, and set fire to their Carbonear home — but his words held no weight with the judge who sentenced him to life in prison.
"I, for one, do not accept your apology," Justice Donald Burrage told Butt. "Nor your expression of remorse, if that's what it was."
Burrage asked Butt to stand as he sentenced him to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 25 years, the mandatory sentence for first-degree murder.
Burrage also handed Butt a three-year sentence for arson, saying he had arrived at that decision after weighing Butt's lack of a criminal record and guilty plea to the charge against the premeditated nature of the crime, the fact that the home had been destroyed, the risk to first responders who attended the scene, and Butt's desire to cause pain to his ex-wife, Andrea Gosse, by depriving her of her share of the home as well as Quinn's remains.
"Quite simply, the pain and suffering inflicted by your senseless actions is beyond measure," Burrage told Butt.
Butt's words were lost on Gosse and her family as well, apart from their surprise in hearing him apologize. Gosse told reporters outside the courthouse it was something she had never expected to hear Butt say, and she didn't accept it any more than Burrage had.
"You can't say, 'I would never hurt my child,' and smother her at the same time. That's not love. You protect your child," Gosse said. "I'm done. I'm done with him, and nothing he could say could change anything about this.
"That was my child. That was my life. I get up every day and come to the realization that I'm not a mom anymore, and find it hard to get out of bed every day. That's what he did to us, and I can never forgive that."
A jury found Butt, 40, guilty of first-degree murder last month after an emotional two-week trial that included testimony from Gosse as well as a number of first responders who attended Butt's home three years ago, on April 25, 2016. Firefighters located Butt and Quinn lying in bed — she was already dead, while he was bleeding from self-inflicted wounds to the neck and wrist.
Medical examiner Dr. Simon Avis testified he had not been able to determine Quinn's exact cause of death upon conducting an autopsy, but had not ruled out smothering. In any case, she had died before the fire broke out in the home, since she did not have any smoke in her airways, Avis said.
Police located a letter written by Butt in a plastic container in his truck, confessing to having taken his daughter's life and indicating he had intended to take his own. Titled "Final Words," the letter expressed animosity toward Gosse and blamed her for Quinn's death.
Before Butt was sentenced Tuesday morning, the court heard poignant victim impact statements from Gosse, Quinn's maternal grandmother and aunt, and a 10-year-old boy who explained Quinn had been his best friend. He included a photo of himself kissing a smiling Quinn on the cheek.
Detailing the suffering she had experienced since Butt murdered Quinn, Gosse told the court she still wondered about her daughter's last moments, and how Butt had been able to take the little girl's life.
"Did she cry? Did she beg him to stop? Did she cry for her mom? What did he think the outcome would be?" Gosse read from her statement.
"Does her voice haunt him, ringing in his ears with all the funny things she used to say? And how is it that he thought he had the right to decide whether she lived or died?"
Gosse told the court she hopes Butt will suffer "in his own private hell" for the rest of his life.
In his address to the court, Butt described Quinn as a "daddy's girl" and told Gosse to "look past (your) anger and hate."
"You know that I would never hurt Quinn. You know that I'm not guilty of first-degree murder," he said. "There's nobody more sorry for what happened than I am. I know how much you're hurting, because I lost my child, too."
Butt also lamented what he said was his lack of a fair trial, given the media attention, and fundraisers and social media posts connected with Quinn's death. He called for changes to the family court and child protection systems.
"If people would just listen, I'm sure that we would not be here today," he said. "So I ask now for help, for somebody to advocate for me, to listen to the full story, to tell my story and prevent this from happening again."
After court, Gosse told reporters she was satisfied that Butt had gotten the maximum prison sentence possible, though it wouldn't make a difference in the grand scheme of things.
"Whether it was 25 years, five years, 100 years, it's not going to make a difference to how I feel," she said. "It's been a long few years and I think we are, as a family and friends, going to try and move on today and work for change for the better of Quinn and for other children, and that's going to be our focus."