Tatamagouche-area man who killed neighbour faces at least 18 years in prison

A 51-year-old Colchester County, N.S., man who murdered his neighbour two years ago and then engaged in shootout with RCMP in a local cemetery must spend at least 18 more years in prison.

On Monday, a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge set parole ineligibility for Ernest Ross (Junior) Duggan at 20 years, less two years' credit for the time he's already spent in jail as his case made its way through the courts.

Duggan is serving a life sentence after pleading guilty in June to second-degree murder. He admitted to firing a single gunshot through the front door of Susie Butlin's home in Bayhead, west of Tatamagouche, on Sept. 17, 2017, killing her.

Duggan fled the scene and ended up in a gun battle with police at a nearby cemetery. He was struck seven times before being subdued.

None of the officers was hurt, but in testimony during a pre-trial hearing some of the police witnesses spoke of the trauma they experienced that day.

"There was some real raw testimony from the police officers," Crown prosecutor Perry Borden said outside court Monday. 

"They didn't know where the bullets were going," Borden said. "They heard the bullets going through trees and ricocheting off the ground near them but they were in fear of their lives, for sure."

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Butlin was hosting two international students at the time of the killing. They heard the gunshot and then called 911 and had to wait for police to arrive.

Borden told court that the students had chosen to live in the Tatamagouche area in part because they felt the community would be safe. That belief was shattered by what they witnessed that day.

However, Borden said Duggan's guilty plea spared those children the necessity of returning to Canada to testify at a trial.

At the time of the murder, Duggan, who is an alcoholic, had resumed drinking after a long abstinence, the court was told in June.

He was also using cocaine and was battling anxiety and depression. He had become upset by allegations Butlin had made against him that he had sexually assaulted her. Police investigated but determined charges were not warranted.

However, Butlin had obtained a peace bond against Duggan, requiring him to stay away from her home.

"Her life was snuffed out because of an allegation she made against Mr. Duggan," Borden told Justice Jeffrey Hunt.

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One of Duggan's lawyers, David Mahoney, told court Monday there was no good explanation for his client's behaviour that day. He said Duggan was well-liked and well-respected in the community and got positive responses from his employer in a pre-sentence report.

Mahoney said Duggan has continuously expressed remorse for his crime and has been a model prisoner. Mahoney said during his time in the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility, Duggan has on more than one occasion intervened to protect the lives of others.

When given the opportunity to speak before he was formally sentenced, Duggan offered a brief comment.

"My most sincere apologies to everyone involved in this tragedy," he said, mentioning both the Butlin family and the RCMP officers.

The 20-year parole ineligibility was a joint recommendation of Crown and defence.

Hunt accepted the recommendation for what he described as a brutal and senseless crime. Hunt said Duggan made "disastrous misjudgements and disastrous decisions."

A sample of Duggan's DNA is now part of a national data base and he's banned from owning weapons for 10 years after his release from prison.

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