Bayhead man gets life for murder
No parole for 20 years for Ernie Duggan, who shot his neighbour
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.”
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.
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.