Bay­head man gets life for mur­der

No pa­role for 20 years for Ernie Dug­gan, who shot his neigh­bour

Truro Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - HARRY SUL­LI­VAN

TRURO, N.S. – Mar­i­tal is­sues com­bined with sub­stance abuse and de­pres­sion ul­ti­mately ended in a down­ward spi­ral that led a Bay­head man to fa­tally shoot his neigh­bour, a supreme court judge said Monday.

“The killing of Ms. But­lin was bru­tal and sense­less,” Nova Sco­tia Supreme Court Jus­tice Jef­fery Hunt said, dur­ing sen­tenc­ing of Ernie Ross (Ju­nior) Dug­gan. “Ms. But­lin lived in fear of Mr. Dug­gan at the end of her life, which is tragic.”

Dug­gan, 51, was given a life sen­tence with no chance of pa­role for 20 years. He pleaded guilty in June to se­cond-de­gree mur­der for Su­san But­lin’s death, late on the night of Sept. 17, 2017.

But­lin, 58, died at the hands of an in­tox­i­cated Dug­gan in her Clarks Road home af­ter be­ing struck at close range by a sin­gle shot­gun blast.

He had pre­vi­ously been or­dered by a pro­vin­cial court judge to not have con­tact with But­lin, who had filed a peace bond ap­pli­ca­tion against him be­cause of sex­ual as­sault al­le­ga­tions.

Chronic de­pres­sion ex­ac­er­bated by in­creased use of al­co­hol and co­caine, how­ever, cul­mi­nated in the events that led to But­lin’s death.

“Mr. Dug­gan ex­pe­ri­enced sub­stance is­sues on and off through­out his adult life,” Hunt said. “In the fi­nal months lead­ing up to the killing of Susie But­lin, th­ese took an even stronger hold of him as fi­nan­cial and mar­i­tal prob­lems seemed to cause him to spi­ral down­ward.”

A state­ment of facts agreed upon by the Crown and de­fence, made pub­lic fol­low­ing Dug­gan’s guilty plea in June, said he went to But­lin’s house and called out to her, then fired one round from a shot­gun at an up­ward an­gle when she came to the door.

“De­spite his al­co­hol con­sump­tion, the ac­cused knew that fir­ing the shot­gun in that di­rec­tion would ei­ther kill Ms. But­lin or cause her bod­ily harm that was likely to cause her death and he was reck­less as to whether her death en­sued,” the state­ment said.

Dug­gan fled, leav­ing bloody foot­prints on the steps. He re­turned to his home where he fin­ished a pint of rum, then gath­ered his firearms and am­mu­ni­tion and drove off in his truck.

Two Ger­man ex­change stu­dents stay­ing with But­lin at the time, who were fa­mil­iar with Dug­gan, were left hud­dling in fear in their bed­room fol­low­ing the shoot­ing, not know­ing whether he was still present or whether they, too, were in dan­ger.

Fol­low­ing the shoot­ing, Dug­gan sent text mes­sages to his wife, with whom he now is go­ing through divorce, in­di­cat­ing his in­ten­tion was “to have the po­lice shoot him.”

Lo­cated by po­lice, Dug­gan led them on a chase to the Locker­bie Ceme­tery out­side Tata­m­agouche. There he be­came in­volved in a stand­off in­volv­ing an ex­change of gun­fire. Ev­i­dence in­di­cated he fired four rounds over the of­fi­cers’ heads.

But co-crown At­tor­ney Perry Bor­den said out­side the court the of­fi­cers cer­tainly felt like they were in dan­ger.

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

The judge also made ref­er­ence to the im­pact the stand­off with Dug­gan had on the sea­soned of­fi­cers.

“I re­mem­ber be­ing struck at the voir dire with how af­fected the of­fi­cers seemed to be, by what they had seen and what they ex­pe­ri­enced,” Hunt said. “This killing, the af­ter­math and the stand­off clearly im­pacted them deeply.”

De­spite his mon­strous crime, how­ever, Hunt said Dug­gan has served as a model pris­oner dur­ing his in­car­cer­a­tion and has demon­strated he is ca­pa­ble of re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

Co-de­fence at­tor­ney David Ma­honey told the court Dug­gan has con­tin­u­ously ex­pressed re­morse for his ac­tions and the im­pact they have had on all in­volved.

“I’d like to give my most sin­cere apolo­gies to ev­ery­one in­volved in this tragedy,” Dug­gan said, prior to be­ing sen­tenced. “Mrs. But­lin’s fam­ily and friends, the of­fi­cers in­volved, to the court, to my fam­ily and friends.”

Dug­gan was shot by RCMP of­fi­cers dur­ing the stand­off and wounded seven times, the most se­ri­ous to his left shoul­der.

He has been in­car­cer­ated since be­ing ar­rested and will re­ceive two years’ credit to­ward pa­role el­i­gi­bil­ity for that time.

A life sen­tence is manda­tory for both first- and se­cond-de­gree mur­der, with a max­i­mum of 25 years be­fore be­ing el­i­gi­ble for pa­role. And while the 20 years im­posed on Dug­gan is at the high-end of the sen­tenc­ing scale, Bor­den said it was war­ranted be­cause of the sever­ity of the case.

“The facts as­so­ci­ated with this case were closer to first-de­gree mur­der than that of se­cond-de­gree mur­der, so it would have to merit the sanc­tion of the higher end of the in­el­i­gi­bil­ity.”

TRURO NEWS/FILE PHOTO

Ernie Ross (Ju­nior) Dug­gan is to serve at least 18 years in pri­son be­fore be­ing el­i­gi­ble to ap­ply for pa­role, for the Sept. 17, 2017 death of his neigh­bour, Su­san But­lin. Dug­gan re­ceived a life sen­tence with a 20-year-pa­role in­el­i­gi­bil­ity but he has al­ready served two years while in re­mand.

HARRY SUL­LI­VAN/ TRURO NEWS

Co-crown Perry Bor­den pre­pares to speak to re­porters out­side the Nova Sco­tia Supreme Court in Truro, fol­low­ing the sen­tenc­ing of Ernie Dug­gan for se­cond-de­gree mur­der.

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