'I cut my hand off. I killed her,' Nicholas Butcher says in 911 call
Warning: This story and live blog may contain graphic details
A severed hand was discovered by police next to a power saw in the bedroom where Kristin Johnston was found dead, not long after a gasping 911 call in which Nicholas Butcher said he had killed his girlfriend and cut off his hand.
The 911 recording was played Tuesday in Nova Scotia Supreme Court at Butcher's second-degree murder trial in the killing of Johnston, a Halifax yoga instructor who died in her Purcells Cove-area home. He has pleaded not guilty.
The call was made at 7:45 a.m. on March 26, 2016. On the recording, Butcher can be heard panting and said first responders would have to break down the door.
"I need help. I'm dying. I'm bleeding to death. I cut off my hand. I killed her," he said on the recording played in court.
Butcher is heard gasping, sobbing and there are the sounds of someone retching. In distress, he doesn't answer most of the questions from the dispatcher, but repeats over and over: "I'm dying."
His attorney Peter Planetta confirmed in court Tuesday the voice on the call is that of his client.
Hand was severed
The court also heard testimony from paramedic Jessica Dipasquale, who was one of the first responders called to Johnston's home after she was killed. When she asked Butcher about his injuries, she said he told her he'd cut his hand off with a saw.
Halifax Regional Police Const. Ray Turner told the jury that after he arrived at the home he found Johnston's body in the master bedroom. He said she was lying on the bed and the sheets were soaked in blood.
Her head was covered with a pillow, he said, and a black-handled steak knife was next to her on the bed. Turner said police called out to her, but didn't hear an answer and assumed she was dead.
A mitre saw was found in the bedroom, Turner told the court. He said a hand was beside the saw, which was next to the bed close to Johnston's body.
The court also heard that a second man was found in an apartment in the basement of the home. He was arrested, but not charged.
A doctor who treated Butcher after he was brought to hospital testified he had a severed hand and deep wounds to his neck.
Butcher was conscious and awake as he was helped with his airway, according to Dr. Genevieve McKinnon, an anesthesiologist at the QEII Health Sciences Centre. She was reassured by the fact there wasn't much blood from his neck, which meant blood vessels hadn't been severed.
Butcher was able to comply with what she was telling him, she said. He said several times that he really messed up, McKinnon testified. He didn't elaborate, but seemed upset and remorseful.
Earlier Tuesday, one of the last people to see Johnson alive faced cross-examination, testifying traumatic things from that night are clear to him even if he can't recall all the details.
The jury has heard that Butcher had arrived at Mike Belyea's Halifax apartment in the early hours of March 26, 2016, looking for Johnston.
Johnston and Butcher left for about 20 minutes, according to testimony, and when she returned she said she had ended her relationship with the man.
Belyea, 41, has told the court that he and Johnston had begun kissing on his bed a short time later when Butcher returned, went into the bedroom and put his hand on Belyea's shoulder and gave him a push.
Belyea left the two to talk at around 4:20 a.m., he testified, but they were gone when returned to the apartment. Johnston was found dead hours later in her Purcells Cove-area home.
During cross-examination Tuesday, defence lawyer Peter Planetta questioned Belyea about how much he and Johnston had to drink that night, and why he didn't tell police his bedroom door was closed.
Belyea agreed both he and Johnston were drunk by the end of the night. He also said he could have provided more detail to police, but included only what he felt was relevant.
The Crown has alleged that Butcher murdered Johnston because she was breaking up with him, and the medical examiner determined she died from 10 sharp wounds to her neck.
Belyea had been friends with Johnston since 2009. He testified Monday that Johnston and their friend Lisa Abramowicz had come to his flat for drinks.
He had never met Butcher before he showed up unexpectedly. After he left the apartment the first time, Belyea said the friends concluded he had tracked them through Johnston's private Facebook Messenger.
Johnston's dog left behind
Butcher's friend of 12 years Adam Chisholm testified after Belyea. He told the court Butcher showed up to his house at around 8 p.m. the night before Johnston's death. He had her dog with him.
Chisholm said Butcher seemed to think Johnston was going to break up with him. Butcher said Johnston had been "distant" since returning from Costa Rica.
Chisholm said he and Butcher spoke for about four hours that night about his relationship as well as a possible articling position in Ontario or a job in real estate in Halifax.
He said the plan was for Butcher to spend the night because they were drinking. Chisholm testified he fell asleep some time between 12 a.m. and 1 a.m. When he awoke he said Butcher was gone but the dog was still there.
Chisholm says Johnston's dog had significant issues, including a skin condition, and required special food which Butcher brought with him. Chisholm said he doesn't know why Butcher brought the dog that night and didn't leave a note explaining.
He texted both Johnston and Butcher, asking what they wanted him to do with the dog. He said later that day he got a call, telling him that Johnston was dead.
The trial began last week and is before a judge and jury. The Crown expects to call about 40 witnesses in the case, which is scheduled to run for 20 days.