Nicholas Butcher appeals conviction, sentence in murder of yoga instructor
By Aly Thomson, THE CANADIAN PRESS
Published Tuesday, October 9, 2018 2:31PM ADT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 10, 2018 1:15PM ADT
HALIFAX -- A Halifax man convicted in the violent death of a Montreal-born yoga instructor and businesswoman is appealing his second-degree murder conviction and sentence.
Nicholas Butcher was convicted of second-degree murder in April after a jury found he stabbed 32-year-old Kristin Johnston to death on March 26, 2016.
The conviction carries an automatic life sentence, but Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Joshua Arnold ruled in August that Butcher would be able to apply for parole after serving 15 years, less 880 days for time served.
A notice of appeal filed recently cites several grounds for appeal, including that Arnold erred in allowing evidence of bad character, and hearsay statements of the deceased.
The notice claims Arnold's instructions to the jury were too lengthy and complicated for the jury to follow.
It also says the period of parole ineligibility was too harsh.
"The trial judge imposed a period of parole ineligibility which is manifestly excessive and unreasonably harsh in the circumstances, in part relying on aggravating factors not proven beyond a reasonable doubt," said the notice, filed with the Court of Appeal on Sept. 11.
The document sets out Butcher's desired outcome of the appeal: "The conviction be quashed and a new trial ordered and/or the parole ineligibility period be reduced."
It also appears Butcher, 36, would prefer to be tried by judge alone if a new trial is ordered, as the document asks directly if he wishes to be tried by judge and jury.
"No," his notice said.
Butcher was charged after police found Johnston's body next to a steak knife on a blood-soaked bed inside her Halifax-area home on March 26, 2016.
Butcher, a law school graduate who wasn't able to find work in his field, was living with Johnston at the time of her death.
Arnold recounted the harrowing details of the murder during Butcher's parole ineligibility hearing in August.
He described how Butcher read Johnston's Facebook messages, which discussed her desire to end their common-law relationship.
Butcher twice showed up unannounced to an apartment where Johnston was hanging out with friends, the second time finding her becoming intimate with someone. Butcher then demanded she return home with him.
"Shortly after they arrived (home), Kristin Johnston changed her clothes and was lying in bed at her most vulnerable. Mr. Butcher then murdered Ms. Johnston. He put a pillow over her face and stabbed, slashed and cut her in the neck 10 times," said Arnold.
"Mr. Butcher then attempted suicide by cutting his own arm with a knife and a razor lying next to Ms. Johnston in bed. When this did not work, he stabbed himself in the neck 13 times. When this did not work, Mr. Butcher retrieved a mitre saw from storage in the basement, brought it to the bedroom, and then cut his own arm off."
The court heard that Butcher's right hand had been surgically reattached.
The 12-member Nova Scotia Supreme Court jury delivered its verdict after five hours of deliberation.
Johnston, whose brother owned a Bikram yoga studio in her hometown of Montreal, had come to Halifax in 2011 with dreams of opening her own studio.
But it shuttered about a month before her death, and friends said Johnston wanted to leave her Halifax life behind, and was "ready for a new chapter" in Tofino, B.C., where her sister lived.