Standing in the witness box and using his arms to demonstrate, Philip Butler described for a jury Monday the move alleged to have strangled his brother, George.
It was an action of self-defence, Butler, 38, explained, describing George as “a scary guy” and speaking of a long family history of trouble with his oldest brother.
In the weeks since George’s drug use had ramped up in May 2018, Butler had been sleeping with a metal pipe under him for protection, he said.
The evening of May 20, Butler and George, 43, had been in the living room of Butler’s Conception Bay South home, watching a movie and talking.
Having been drinking whiskey and doing crack cocaine until they had run out, Butler said, he had fallen asleep on the couch and was later awakened by George, who wanted him to drive him to get more drugs.
The brothers were just getting to know each other again after having no contact for many years, Butler said.
George had recently returned to the province and was staying with their mom, but spent a lot of his time at Butler’s house, supplying drugs, he said.
George told him he was connected with outlaw bikers, Butler said, and he had bragged about having a role in different serious crimes in the city.
Butler said he believed his brother.
“When George was home, he was trouble,” Butler told the court. “When I was younger I used to tell people George was the undertaker from WWF.”
Taking George to get more crack and then returning home that night, Butler said, he fell back asleep on the couch, but was awakened a second time by loud noises in his bedroom.
George was in there, rummaging through dresser drawers and smashing them, talking to himself and looking for Butler’s tax documents, Butler testified, since their other brother, Jonathan, had prepared the taxes for him and George thought the papers might contain Jonathan’s home address.
George had it out for Jonathan, Butler testified at his own second-degree murder trial Monday.
It’s something Jonathan also told the court when he testified last week, but didn’t elaborate, only saying it was due to a “serious incident” years earlier.
“He wanted to kill (Jonathan) and he didn’t care if he had to take out his whole family,” Butler told the jury.
With George trashing his bedroom, Butler said, he called a friend for help and left a voicemail, before going into the room to “try and talk some sense” into George. George threw two broken drawers at him, he said, then pushed him into another bedroom and began beating him in the head, calling him Jon.
“Why not call police?” defence lawyer Tim O’Brien asked Butler.
“Because I didn’t want to get George in any trouble,” Butler replied. “I didn’t want him to hate on me like he hated on the rest of the family.”
George then went into the bathroom, where he used a syringe to inject crack into a vein in his neck, Butler said.
Butler told the court he waited for George to leave the bathroom, then went in there himself and changed into pyjamas before deciding to make a run from George.
He attempted to run out the front door of the house, but his brother caught him, grabbing him by the head and pulling him into the living room, he said.
“We’re both kind of yelling at each other, I wouldn’t be able to tell you the exact words. At that time he takes a needle and jabs it into my arm and injects me with something,” Butler testified. “I jump up, I put George in a headlock. There was a bit of a struggle, we hit the floor and we both pass out.”
Why use a headlock? O’Brien asked.
“From being kids in school, it had gotten me out of situations before,” Butler said. “I didn’t want to kill him, I wanted to subdue him.”
It was under cross-examination by prosecutor Scott Hurley that Butler demonstrated the movement, using his bent left arm to show how he had caught George’s neck, then grabbed his right hand to keep his arm tightly in place.
“I didn’t want to kill him, I wanted to subdue him.” — Philip Butler
“Ever see any wrestling?” Hurley asked. “Isn’t that what you’d call a sleeper hold?”
“I did it to knock him out, so I could get away,” he testified. “I really didn’t think using a headlock was going to kill him. I wasn’t trying to hurt my brother.”
“Did you hear him gasp?” Hurley asked.
“I passed out. I can’t tell you what happened after I passed out,” Butler replied, adding that the next thing he could recall was waking up the following afternoon and finding George dead.
Dr. Simon Avis, the forensic pathologist who conducted an autopsy on George Butler, testified at the murder trial last week. George had died as a result of asphyxiation due to strangulation by another person, he said he had determined, and told the jury there was evidence that he had been strangled in a choke hold rather than by hands around his neck.
Avis also told the court George had injuries consistent with a fight, including abrasions on his knuckles, cuts to his lips and bruises around his eye.
Photos taken of Butler by police after his arrest show injuries on his body as well, including what appears to be a puncture wound in his arm, and abrasions to his arms and torso.
Hurley questioned Butler on the self-defence angle of his testimony, asking him why he had bothered to change his clothes before trying to escape, why he didn’t appear to have any injuries to his head in the police photos and if he had noticed George had been bleeding.
Hurley also questioned Butler on his drug use and his phone records, pointing out a series of calls to the alleged drug dealer had been made from Butler’s cellphone, during the time he had said he was asleep on the couch.
Hurley asked Butler about the screams of “I told you I f---ing loved you!” the next-door neighbour had reported hearing early the next morning.
“Was George dead or alive?” Hurley asked.
“I’m assuming he was alive,” Butler replied.
“You used the word loved, past tense. Are you sure it’s not something you said after you choked him out, standing over him?”
“Nope, definitely not,” Butler said.
Butler was the only witness called by O’Brien and co-counsel Karen Rehner to testify for the defence during the murder trial.
Hurley and fellow prosecutor Alana Dwyer called 11 witnesses before closing their case last week.
The lawyers are expected to present their closing submissions over the coming days before the jury is sequestered to deliberate on a verdict.