Judge admonishes man accused in girlfriend's death for trial delays

A Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge sternly rebuked a Halifax man accused of killing his girlfriend over delays in his murder trial at a hearing Thursday.

Nicholas Jordan Butcher is charged with second-degree murder in the 2016 death of Kristin Johnston, 32. She was found dead in her suburban Halifax home on March 26, 2016.

Butcher's trial before a judge and jury was supposed to begin Monday. Instead, he fired his lawyer, Roger Burrill, and started a search for a replacement.

Butcher was brought back to court Thursday morning to update Justice Gregory Warner on his search.

Limited phone access hampering search

Butcher said he's kept locked up 24 hours a day at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Burnside and has only had access to a phone for 14 minutes in the three weeks since his last court appearance.

He told the court he's had conversations with two lawyers, but he's still looking for one that's a "good fit."

"You had Mr. Burrill, one of the best lawyers in the province," Warner said to Butcher. "Why shouldn't I be skeptical that there's a problem here?"

The judge said he was "concerned about the feeling I'm getting from this thing."

Some 46 Crown witnesses had been subpoenaed to come to court this week for the scheduled start of the trial. Crown prosecutor Tanya Carter said one of those witnesses has a terminal illness and she's concerned about what a delay will mean about getting that person's evidence before a jury.

Trial could start without a defence lawyer

Warner told Butcher it's about fairness not just to him, but to everyone involved in this case.

"I'm very skeptical about people who terminate their counsel after a year," Warner said.

The judge gave Butcher another week to get a lawyer. He's sent a request to the jail to allow Butcher access to a phone for an hour a day over the next few days to facilitate his search.

Warner warned it could come to the point where a trial will be scheduled whether Butcher has found a lawyer or not. Butcher has a law degree from Dalhousie's Schulich School of Law and has represented himself in most recent appearances.