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Trent Butt guilty of first-degree murder for death of daughter Quinn


Butt will be back in court next month for a sentencing hearing

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

While two families were emotional in the courtroom gallery behind him, Trent Butt appeared calm, taking a sip of water from a disposable cup as a jury declared him guilty of first-degree murder, in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John's Friday afternoon.

It's a conviction that comes with it a mandatory jail sentence of life imprisonment, with no chance of parole for 25 years.

"You won't be going to the same place Quinn is," his ex-wife, Andrea Gosse, said toward the back of Butt's head, as her loved ones around her cheered at the conviction.

In what prosecutors said was an act of hatred toward Gosse, Butt murdered Quinn, their five-year-old daughter, at his home in Carbonear in the early morning hours of April 24, 2016.

He wrote a 10-page suicide note, admitting to killing his daughter and expressing his animosity toward Gosse and his frustration toward the family court and child protection systems, which he placed in a container in his truck, along with a number of treasured items.

He doused the interior of his home in gasoline, disconnected the smoke alarms and then cut his neck and wrist before lighting the house on fire and getting in bed next to Quinn.

Butt pleaded guilty to a charge of arson, but not guilty to first-degree murder, saying he had killed his daughter but did not remember doing it and hadn't planned or intended for it to happen.

Planning and deliberation are required elements for a conviction of first-degree murder, but not second-degree murder or manslaughter, which carry shorter minimum periods of incarceration.

The jurors didn't buy his story. After a two-week trial that included often-emotional evidence from first responders, doctors, police investigators, Gosse and Butt, they convicted him on the first-degree charge after one day of deliberations.

Gosse and her loved ones, dressed in pink and purple in memory of Quinn, hugged and cried as they prepared to leave the courtroom, thanking prosecutors Lloyd Strickland and Jennifer Lundrigan and RCMP officers involved in the murder investigation.

Butt's loved ones, who were also crying, left quietly after court was adjourned.

Outside the courthouse, Gosse told reporters anything less than a first-degree murder verdict would have felt to her like a punch in the stomach.

"It felt like it took forever, but we got justice for Quinn, and now we'll work to protect other children and make changes in honour of her," she said through sobs.

"This is what he chose to do to our life instead of co-parenting, and it's just not worth it. It felt like I've been fighting the system for three years and this is the first time anything has gone Quinn's and (my) way."

Gosse expressed her gratitude to those who have contacted her on social media, saying she has yet to respond to all the messages she's received, but has read and appreciated each one.

"You feel down and all of a sudden you get a message to say, 'Your strength, your courage.' It definitely helped us get through (the trial), for sure."

Gosse expressed relief that the trial is over.

An autopsy could not pinpoint Quinn's cause of death, but medical examiner Dr. Simon Avis told the court he was unable to rule out the possibility she had been smothered. The little girl had died before the fire ravaged the home, he testified, since she had no signs of smoke in her lungs.

Butt told the court he assumed he smothered his daughter.

The Crown centred much of its case on Butt's handwritten note, titled "Final Words," which it said was essentially a confession to first-degree murder, put in Butt's truck so it wouldn't burn in the fire.

"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," Butt wrote.

"Quinn is with me now because I could not die knowing she would be left with Andrea."

Butt had devised a murder-suicide plot to cause pain to Gosse, Strickland told the jury at the start of the trial, saying, "His only failure was that he survived."

Butt's lawyers, Derek Hogan and Shanna Wicks, told the court Butt had been severely depressed, socially isolated and suicidal in the months before he killed Quinn.

The letter was not a confession to having planned her murder, Hogan said in his closing remarks at trial, but conclusions Butt had made after he realized Quinn was dead. Hogan said there was no proof of planning and deliberation in the case, just a "collection of maybes" that didn't satisfy the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Strickland and Lundrigan told reporters after court was adjourned they felt Butt's own testimony might have been the clincher for their case, since he had no response to many of their cross-examination questions.

The verdict was the right one, but not necessarily a cause for complete celebration, they said.

"There's no happiness to be taken from any of this. The verdict doesn't, obviously, take away the pain. It doesn't bring Quinn back," Strickland said.

Strickland said the case had been a particularly difficult one for himself and Lundrigan, who had relied on their families to help them through.

"Having said that, what we've gone through, in my opinion, pales, obviously, to the family and also to the paramedics and firefighters who went to that home that evening," he said. "I don't think they've completely gotten over that, and I'm not sure they ever will."

Late in the afternoon, the RCMP issued a news release expressing praise for the first responders who attended Butt's home and medical staff at Carbonear General hospital the night Quinn was killed, and encouraged them to seek support if they need it. The RCMP also thanked its officers who worked on the case, the members of the jury and journalists who covered the trial.

"We presented a strong and thorough case that supported the charge of first-degree murder," RCMP Supt. Holly Turton stated. "We are pleased that the jury concluded, based on the evidence, that this charge was appropriate, even though the verdict provides little solace for those who loved Quinn and continue to grieve."

Butt will be back in court on April 23 for a sentencing hearing on the arson charge, at which time Quinn's family will have the opportunity to present victim impact statements.

tara.bradbury@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @tara_ bradbury


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

Quinn Butt's mother takes the stand as her father goes on trial in St. John's for her murder


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