Nfld. & Labrador

'I concluded I must have suffocated her,' Trent Butt testifies about his daughter's death

The Carbonear man says he doesn't remember how five-year-old Quinn died in April 2016.

Carbonear man says he doesn't remember how 5-year-old Quinn died

The body of five-year-old Quinn Butt was removed from her father's Carbonear home in the early morning hours of April 24, 2016. (Submitted photo)

Trent Butt says he doesn't remember ever doing anything to his daughter, Quinn, just that he realized she had died and concluded he had suffocated her.

Butt, accused of first-degree murder in the death of five-year-old Quinn and arson for the burning of the home he co-owned with ex-wife Andrea Gosse, took the witness stand at Supreme Court on Tuesday morning.

He has pleaded guilty to the arson charge but not guilty to the first-degree murder charge.

During his testimony, Butt outlined what he felt that night, thinking about the difficulties he had been having, and was crying and distraught.

"After that I remember kneeling over Quinn. I tried to wake her up and then I realized she was gone," he said.

"I concluded I must have suffocated her. I felt sick. I picked her up in my arms and told her over and over again how much I loved her. It was then that I decided I was going to kill myself."

Trent Butt's lawyer, Derek Hogan, left, called Butt to the witness stand Tuesday. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Butt went on to testify about how he got into his truck to write what his defence describes as a suicide note.

"I wanted the world to know what I was going through," he said.

Butt's lawyer, Derek Hogan, asked Butt about the Crown's allegation that he killed Quinn to punish Gosse.

"No, I did not," said Butt.

Hogan asked about the allegation Butt planned to kill Quinn.

"No, I did not," said Butt, again.

Andrea Gosse (wearing glasses), Quinn Butt's mother, in court Monday behind Trent Butt. (Mark Quinn/ CBC)

Quinn was found by firefighters, and was later declared dead in hospital.

The Crown, in arguing Butt wanted to punish his estranged wife, pointed to what it calls a murder-suicide note found in his truck after the fire. 

That letter, titled "Final Words," was entered into evidence Monday.

Butt told the court he wrote the letter after he found Quinn dead and put it a plastic box with photos. He then put that box outside in his truck.

"Then I got in bed with Quinn. Holding her and kissing her and telling her I loved her. Then I decided how to kill myself and burn down the house," he said.

He says he disconnected the fire alarms, slashed his own throat with a utility knife, poured gas in the basement and living room, started the fire and got back into the bed with Quinn and cut his own wrists..

"I just held her and waited to die," said Butt, suppressing a sob. "Kissing Quinn. Praying to God asking for forgiveness and asking God to take us to heaven, and then I lost consciousness."

The defence argues Butt didn't mean to kill his daughter, and doesn't remember doing it. 

Crown questions Butt

In cross-examination, Crown lawyer Lloyd Strickland questioned Butt's claim that he didn't plan his daughter's death.

"You said on page 9 of your letter, 'I want all the things in this box to be given to my brother,' so you decided you were going to burn down the house before you wrote the letter," said Strickland

Butt denied it.

Strickland said he was struck by how neatly the letter was written.

"You are telling us you wrote this 10-page letter after you killed your daughter? Any letters smeared with tears? It's a very focused letter for a distraught person. How long did it take?" asked Strickland.

"I don't recall," said Butt.

"You turned off the fire alarms? Lit the fire and cut your wrists?" asked Strickland.

"Yes. I didn't want to be burned alive," said Butt

"I put it to you that that is some cold, calculating behaviour," said Strickland. "You wanted to take everything. The house. Quinn. You were trying to exert as much pain on Ms. Gosse as possible."

"I didn't plan this," said Butt.

"This letter is more filled with hate than grief," said Strickland. "This is written in anger, yes?"

"I guess there is some there, yes," responded Butt.

Cause of death

The court heard Monday from the former provincial chief medical examiner, Dr. Simon Avis, who performed the autopsy of Quinn. Avis testified he was unable to determine a cause of death, but said she died before the fire at her father's home was set.

Butt was originally charged with first-degree murder and arson, and pleaded not guilty to both charges. When his trial started, Butt changed his arson plea to guilty.

Last week, the jury heard heart-wrenching testimony from both Gosse, and the first responders who were on scene the morning of the fire.

Court adjourned Tuesday morning and is expected to resume Thursday for the lawyers' final summations. Judge Donald Burrage is then expected to give instructions to the jury, who will then be sequestered to deliberate.

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with files from Mark Quinn