Jury begins deliberations at Nicholas Butcher’s second-degree murder trial

HALIFAX — The fate of a Halifax man accused of killing Montreal-born yoga instructor Kristin Johnston is now in the hands of the jury.

Justice Joshua Arnold delivered his final instructions to jurors Friday at Nicholas Butcher’s second-degree murder trial in Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

Arnold told the 12-member jury there are three possible verdicts: Butcher could be found guilty of second-degree murder, guilty of manslaughter, or he could be found not guilty.

He asked the jury to make their decision “without sympathy, prejudice or fear.”

“Keep an open mind, but not an empty head,” Arnold said, reminding the jurors that there decision must be unanimous, although they don’t have to arrive at a decision in the same way.

The jury of five men and seven women deliberated for about 2.5 hours on Friday. Deliberations will resume Saturday morning.

Arnold told the jury they must ask themselves a series of questions to guide them in reaching their verdict.

He said if they’re satisfied Butcher caused Johnston’s death, but find he acted in self-defence, they must find him not guilty.

However, if they find the Crown has proven Butcher did not act in self-defence, they must then determine if he intended to kill Johnston. If they find he did not intend to kill Johnston, they would find him guilty of manslaughter.

But if they find he did intend to kill Johnston, they must then determine if Johnston provoked Butcher.

The judge said that if they’re satisfied the Crown has proven Butcher was not provoked, he would be guilty of second-degree murder. If they find he was provoked, he would be guilty of manslaughter.

Jurors returned with two questions before retiring for the night, including one about the provocation defence.

The Crown has argued that Butcher deliberately killed Johnston, but the defence says he was acting in self-defence.

In his closing arguments Thursday, defence lawyer Peter Planetary told the jury that Butcher did not intend to kill Johnston at her house on March 26, 2016.

Planetary said the 32-year-old woman had grabbed a knife as Butcher slept and stabbed him in the neck, and that Butcher was acting in self-defence when he fought back.

He suggested to the jury that Johnston was “acting quite erratically” in the days before her death after she returned home from a trip to Costa Rica and following the closing of her yoga business in Halifax.

Planetta said Johnston eventually snapped, and attacked Butcher.

The 36-year-old accused — the only witness for the defence — testified it was dark and he couldn’t see who it was, but managed to grab the knife and lash out, realizing seconds later he had killed Johnston.

Crown lawyer Carla Ball argued Butcher killed Johnston after realizing their relationship was deteriorating.

Ball suggested Butcher fatally stabbed Johnston and then tried to kill himself with the same knife before cutting off his right hand with a mitre saw.

Ball said: “He decided that if he could not have Kristin Johnston, no one else could have her.”

The court heard Butcher called 911 and told the dispatcher he had killed his girlfriend and tried to kill himself. During the call, he never mentioned that he had been attacked or that he had acted in self defence.

Butcher has a law degree from Dalhousie University but was unable to find work in his field.

Follow (at)AlyThomson on Twitter.

Aly Thomson, The Canadian Press

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