Nova Scotia

N.S. court rejects Nicholas Butcher's murder appeal

The man who killed Kristin Johnston in her own home has failed in his bid to have his murder conviction and sentence overturned. Nicholas Butcher stabbed Johnston to death on March 26, 2016.

Kristin Johnston was stabbed to death on March 26, 2016

Nicholas Butcher has lost his appeal in the 2016 killing of Kristin Johnston. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The man who killed Kristin Johnston in her own home has failed in his bid to have his murder conviction and sentence overturned in the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal.

Nicholas Butcher stabbed Johnston to death on March 26, 2016.

A jury convicted him of second-degree murder two years later. Justice Josh Arnold ruled that Butcher must serve at least 15 years before he can apply for parole.

The night he killed Johnston, Butcher read the messages she was exchanging with other people via Facebook Messenger.

Johnston had left her laptop in her home and was unaware that he was accessing her messages almost as soon as she wrote them.

Butcher read messages

In the messages, Johnston talked about wanting to break up with Butcher. She also arranged to meet another man at the man's apartment.

Butcher tracked her to the man's home and persuaded her to return to her home with him.

Hours later, while she lay sleeping, Butcher took a kitchen knife and stabbed Johnston multiple times in the throat. He then took a mitre saw and cut off his own right hand before calling 911.

Butcher took both the conviction and the 15-year sentence to the appeals court. In a decision released this week, the court rejected both sections of the appeal.

Butcher had argued that Arnold was wrong to allow the jury to hear about statements Johnston made to family and friends in text messages. Butcher also argued that texts he sent were incorrectly used during his trial.

Panel unanimous on judge's reasoning

On that point, the three-member appeal panel rejected those arguments unanimously, saying Arnold had made no error in his review of the evidence or in his reasoning.

However, the appeal panel was divided on the issue of whether 15 years was an appropriate sentence. While two members said it was, Justice Duncan Beveridge dissented, saying the sentence was too high.

A murder conviction carries an automatic life sentence. But with second-degree murder, the trial judge has the discretion to set parole ineligibility in a range anywhere from 10 to 25 years.

If a victim is an intimate partner, that is viewed as an aggravating factor and the sentence is set higher than the 10-year minimum.

Writing for herself and Justice Cindy Bourgeois in the majority, Justice Anne Derrick noted that the way Butcher killed Johnston was an aggravating factor that the trial judge weighed in his decision.

'Her final moments were spent in terror'

"Her final moments were spent in terror and agony as Mr. Butcher repeatedly stabbed her and she bled to death," Derrick wrote.

The judge also noted how Butcher's behaviour that night before the murder should also be considered an aggravating circumstance.

"In the hours before killing Ms. Johnston, he was intent on finding her and exercising control over her," Derrick wrote. 

"He consciously chose to do things that ultimately led to her death. At any point before he got the knife and started stabbing her, Mr. Butcher could have turned from the path he was on and Ms. Johnston would still be alive."



Blair Rhodes


Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 40 years, the last 31 with CBC. His primary focus is on stories of crime and public safety. He can be reached at