HALIFAX — Before he allegedly killed his girlfriend and cut off his hand, Nicholas Butcher was highly educated and underemployed.
Butcher, 36, told his murder trial that he studied history during his five-year undergraduate degree at McGill University, and earned a master's degree in history. He partially completed a PhD at McMaster University, then applied to Dalhousie University's Schulich School of Law.
Butcher — a stocky man with closely cropped hair, beard and moustache — starting dating Kristin Johnston shortly after graduating from the Halifax law school in 2015.
But by the time he allegedly stabbed the Montreal-born yoga instructor to death on March 26, 2016, Butcher had yet to article with a law firm — required to become a licensed lawyer. He testified that he spent the entire previous summer looking for a position.
The 14-member Nova Scotia Supreme Court jury will hear closing arguments at the second-degree murder trial on Thursday, before Justice Joshua Arnold delivers his final instructions.
Before evidence wrapped up on Monday, Butcher sketched out his life for the jury, and his search for work while juggling about $200,000 in debt.
"At the end of September, money started to become an issue," Butcher told the jury, taking the stand in his own defence. "So I acquired several part-time jobs. Five, in fact."
They included an election poll supervisor, office assistant, cafe employee, driving instructor and contract research assistant at a law firm.
However, Butcher conceded these jobs were not enough to put a dent in his debt, which included a $100,000 line of credit from a bank and student loans.
It caused him stress, he confirmed under cross-examination by Crown lawyer Carla Ball.
Ball has suggested that another stressor that was weighing on Butcher in March 2016 was his deteriorating relationship with Johnston — something he flatly denied.
The pair met through mutual friends in 2011, when she moved to Halifax from Montreal to open a Bikram yoga studio.
They started up a relationship four years later. Eventually, Butcher moved in with Johnston, 32, at her house in Purcells Cove, a coastal community on Halifax's outskirts.
Witnesses have testified that after Johnston's yoga business failed and closed in February 2016, she talked about breaking up with Butcher, saying that she didn't love him the way he loved her.
But Butcher denied knowing anything about Johnston's intentions to end their relationship, or that she broke up with him only hours before the death as her friends testified.
"Things had been great," he insisted on the stand.
He also appeared to downplay his level of affection for her, disagreeing with Ball when she asserted that Johnston was the "love of your life."
"She was one part of my life. She was important," he said.
The trial has heard that Butcher called 911 on the morning of March 26, 2016, and told the dispatcher he had killed his girlfriend and tried to kill himself.
Police found Johnston's body on a blood-soaked bed next to a steak knife. On the floor of the bedroom was a mitre saw and Butcher's severed right hand.
Butcher, the defence's only witness, told the jury he fatally stabbed Johnston by accident.
He said he awoke to someone stabbing him in the throat and couldn't see who it was, but managed to grab the knife and fight back — realizing seconds later he'd killed Johnston.
Butcher said he then tried to kill himself by cutting off his right hand, which was later surgically reattached.
The Crown alleges it was Butcher who attacked Johnston, before stabbing himself in the neck with the same knife in an attempt to kill himself.
The jury heard from 32 witnesses over 14 court days.
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Aly Thomson, The Canadian Press