Halifax yoga teacher's friend says accused showed up at his apartment twice the night she was killed

Nicholas Jordan Butcher is on trial in Nova Scotia Supreme Court for second-degree murder in the death of his girlfriend, Kristin Johnson.

Nicholas Jordan Butcher accused of 2nd-degree murder in death of girlfriend Kristin Johnston

Kristin Johnston, 32, was found dead in March 2016 at her Purcells Cove home. (Kristin Johnston Legacy/Facebook)

A Halifax jury heard Monday that accused killer Nicholas Butcher showed up unexpectedly in the bedroom of a stranger's apartment where Kristin Johnston was kissing another man, just hours before she was killed.

Butcher, 35, is accused of killing the Halifax yoga instructor, who was his girlfriend, on March 26, 2016. He has pleaded not guilty. The Crown alleges Butcher murdered Johnston, 32, because she was trying to break up with him.

At the opening of Butcher's murder trial, the Crown told the jury that Butcher himself called 911, and that call came in around 7:45 a.m. that March 26.

An unexpected visitor

Michael Belyea, 41, had been friends with Johnston since 2009. He testified Monday that after 1 a.m. March 26, Johnston and their friend Lisa Abramowicz showed up at his flat for drinks.

He said it was the first time Johnston had been to his place on Willow Street and that he had sent her directions to his place through Facebook Messenger.

Nicholas Butcher arrives at provincial court in Halifax on April 12, 2016. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Belyea said Johnston didn't show any signs of intoxication as she climbed the stairs to his apartment and said she seemed "happy" and "energized."

At some point during the night, Belyea said he heard the front door at the ground level of his apartment open. Then he said he heard someone open his apartment door and start walking up the stairs. He said it was a stranger — a man in his 30s.

The Crown later identified the man as Butcher to the court. Belyea said he did not know Johnston and Butcher were in a relationship. Belyea said Butcher was looking for Johnston.

'I definitely found it strange'

"I definitely found it strange," Belyea said when describing Butcher's demeanour.

Belyea said Johnston asked Butcher how he knew she was at the apartment. He said she appeared shocked to see Butcher standing there.

He said Butcher and Johnston went into his kitchen and that their conversation was loud but he couldn't hear what they were saying.

"It felt a bit awkward because there was something going on there," Belyea said.

Belyea said Johnston and Butcher went downstairs. He said he was concerned about them talking outside the neighbour's door and asked them to move.

'Kind of freaked out'

Belyea said Johnston came back upstairs to his apartment. He said she told him and Abramowicz that she and Butcher broke up. He said Johnston appeared "kind of freaked out" after the interaction with Butcher.

Belyea said they tried to figure out how Butcher found out where they were and concluded that he tracked them through Johnston's private Facebook Messenger messages. He said Butcher was at his apartment for about 20 minutes.

Belyea said Johnston told him and Abramowicz that she was unhappy in her relationship. He said the three listened to records for a bit and then Johnston told them she was going to sleep there and headed to Belyea's bedroom.

Belyea said a short time later he said goodbye to Abramowicz and followed Johnston to the bedroom. He said Abramowicz left at about 4:15 a.m. He said he went into the bedroom, rested next to Johnston and they kissed.

2nd encounter at the apartment

Belyea said while he and Johnston were in his bedroom he heard steps coming across his kitchen. He said he felt a hand on his shoulder "giving me a bit of a push." He said it was Butcher.

Belyea said Butcher spoke to Johnston and asked her what she was doing or why she was doing this. Belyea said Johnston told Butcher she wanted to stay.

Belyea said he was kneeling by the side of the bed while Johnston and Butcher talked. He said she was lying on her back and Butcher's arm was over her body.

When he asked what he should do, Belyea said, Butcher asked to give him and Johnston a few minutes.

Gone when he got back

Not wanting to eavesdrop, Belyea said he left his apartment to get cigarettes but didn't tell Johnston or Butcher he was leaving. He said he didn't have any concerns about his own safety, and that Butcher didn't appear threatening.

Belyea said when he came back, Johnston and Butcher were gone.

At around 5:30 a.m., Belyea said he got a Facebook Message from Johnston that read "Jesus f--king Christ, I'm so sorry."

Later the same day, Belyea got a call saying Johnston was dead. He said he was in shock and extremely sad.

After the Crown finished with Belyea, Justice Josh Arnold gave mid-trial instructions to the jury on how to handle hearsay evidence — what Johnston said to her friends.

Butcher wore a suit to court Monday and appeared calm during the testimonies.

Trial resumes Tuesday

The cross-examination of Belyea will resume Tuesday morning at Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

During Abramowicz's cross-examination, Butcher's lawyer tried to poke holes in her credibility. She said she'd once spent 90 minutes on the phone with Butcher as he cried "like a baby" over Johnston.

Peter Planetta asked why Abramowicz didn't mention this phone call to police.

"You're willing to do whatever it takes to Mr. Butcher look bad," Planetta said.

Abramowicz had earlier pushed back against Planetta's line of questioning, at one point snapping, "I can't believe you do this for a living." Arnold cautioned her to answer the lawyer's questions.

Abramowicz, who grew up with Johnston in Montreal and lived in Halifax at the time of her friend's death, began her testimony Friday.

She told the court that Johnston was "extremely ambivalent" about Butcher the entire time she was with him.

"He just didn't do anything for her," she said.​

Johnston was found dead in her Purcells Cove-area home. Crown attorney Tanya Carter has said the medical examiner found she died of 10 sharp-force wounds to her neck.

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.

The CBC's Blair Rhodes blogged from court Monday. Those on mobile can read here.

With files from Blair Rhodes