Yoga teacher planned to break up with man accused of killing her, jury told

The Crown says it intends to prove that Kristin Johnston was in a relationship with the man accused in her murder and that she was trying to break it off at the time of her death.

Nicholas Jordan Butcher faces 2nd-degree murder charge in death of Kristin Johnston

Nicholas Butcher is charged with second-degree murder in the 2016 death of Kristin Johnston. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The Crown says it intends to prove Kristin Johnston was in a relationship with the man accused of murdering her and that she was trying to break it off at the time of her death.

Nicholas Jordan Butcher, 35, is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Johnston, a 32-year-old Halifax yoga teacher. He has pleaded not guilty.

Crown attorney Tanya Carter presented her opening remarks on Wednesday in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax.

'Evidence not complicated'

Carter said Butcher "couldn't be without Kristin Johnston, and killed her."

"The evidence is not complicated. Kristin's life ended in tragedy, and the evidence points to Mr. Butcher committing murder," Carter told the Nova Scotia Supreme Court jury.

Kristin Johnston ran Bikram Yoga Halifax. (Kristin Johnston Legacy/Facebook)

She said that during the trial the medical examiner will say Johnston died of 10 sharp-force wounds to her neck. 

Johnston, originally from Montreal, had owned and run Bikram Yoga Halifax. She was found dead at her home in the Purcells Cove area on March 26, 2016.

Crown to call 40 witnesses 

Carter said on the evening of March 25, 2016, Johnston was at a bar in the north end of Halifax, spending time with friends.

"She talked about her plans for the future, her difficulty with finding the best way to break up with Mr. Butcher and her desire not to go home that night," said Carter.

Later that evening, the 32-year-old woman went to a friend's house nearby. However, Butcher found out where she was and went there, speaking with Johnston before leaving the house without her, the Crown lawyer said.

A court sketch of Nicholas Butcher in court. (J. Vincent Walsh/For CBC)

"Mr. Butcher went to the same house again a couple of hours later, unhappy with Kristin's continued presence," she said.

Johnston's friend briefly left the apartment, and "that was the last time Kristin was seen alive," Carter said.

When the friend returned, Johnston and Butcher were gone.

The next morning, Butcher called 911 and told the call taker he had killed his girlfriend and tried to kill himself, said Carter.

Wearing a navy suit and glasses, Butcher sat quietly next to his lawyers Peter Planetta and Jonathan Hughes during the proceedings Wednesday, occasionally jotting down notes on a pad of paper.

1st witness Johnston's brother-in-law

The Crown called Johnston's brother-in-law, Cameron Dennison, as its first witness.

He told the court Johnston was in the process of shutting down her yoga studio at the time of her death. 

Dennison said in the weeks before she died, Johnston travelled to Florida to meet her family for a vacation — without Butcher. Dennison testified Johnston told him she wasn't happy and didn't think Butcher was supporting her the way she needed. He said she wanted to break up with Butcher and asked for Dennison's advice on how to do so quickly and kindly.

"She wasn't happy," Dennison told the jury, occasionally becoming emotional during his testimony. "Her intention was to break up with him. She just wasn't exactly sure how to do it."

Jury selection for the trial began on Tuesday morning in a Halifax courtroom. (J. Vincent Walsh/For CBC)

Dennison said he doesn't believe Johnston and Butcher ever lived together, but Butcher had moved into her house while she was away because he was having trouble paying his rent and was struggling to find articling work. He told the court he believes they had been dating for about a year.

He said Johnston's plan once she returned from that trip was to leave Halifax and move to Tofino, B.C., to live with himself and her sister, who was pregnant at the time.

Dennison told the court that about three weeks after Johnston returned from Florida, Halifax police told him she was dead.

Under cross-examination, Planetta pointed out that Dennison had told police Butcher lost his lease of his apartment, not that he was having trouble paying his rent.

Dennison agreed he provided more information on the stand Wednesday than what he told police via a Skype interview two years ago.

He said he felt at the time that the cops would get more information from his wife, and was surprised they wanted to speak to him at all.

The trial before Justice Joshua Arnold opened yesterday with jury selection.

The Crown expects to call some 40 witnesses in a case that has been scheduled to run for 20 days.

The trial resumes Thursday.

The CBC's Blair Rhodes blogged from court. Those on mobile can follow along here.

With files from Blair Rhodes