A judge yesterday convicted Tamara Butler of murder in the killing of her six-year-old daughter Bethany.
Judge Alastair Malcolm, delivering his verdict in the judge-alone trial, said he did not have evidence that the mother had an “abnormality of mind” that would have warranted a lesser sentence of manslaughter.
Central to the defence case was testimony from mental health professionals, including psychiatrist Dr Marc Lockhart, that Butler said she heard voices and that God told her that her daughter was a demon and to kill her. Butler sat silently in the court as the judge read the lengthy verdict, her hands folded. Her gaze wandered from the judge to the ceiling and to the people assembled to hear the verdict.
“There was no evidence she was hearing voices,” the Grand Court judge said in his verdict. Instead, he said, Butler did not talk about hearing voices until her second interview with Dr Lockhart.
Butler killed her daughter on the night of October 26, 2014. Prosecutors say she stabbed the child dozens of times in the master bedroom of the family’s home in Savannah.
Defence attorneys argued that Butler kept her mental illness to herself because of the stigma associated with psychological troubles.
Justice Malcolm said that argument did not make sense. He asked, “The stigma of being mentally ill is greater than the stigma of killing your daughter?”
Additionally, psychologists testified that Butler did not have significant symptoms after the arrest. The judge said he agreed with one of the expert witnesses that “the symptoms would not have disappeared the way they have”.
Butler’s husband, Lenford Butler, a sergeant in the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, sat in the courtroom to hear the sentencing. In full uniform, he listened attentively, holding his chin in his hands, as the judge read the hour-long verdict.
Mr Butler had testified during the first day of the trial, telling the court of his wife’s increasingly troubling behavior in the years and months leading up to the murder. He said she stopped going to church and became more erratic, at times worried that people were reading her emails and listening to her conversations.
She would get angry, her husband testified, when people touched her.
“If you ask her if she is all right, she’d say everything was OK,” Mr Butler said, but “you can see everything was not.”
The night their daughter was killed, Mr Butler told the court, his wife shaved her head and her eyebrows. He found her sitting on her bed and staring into a mirror. Asked why she, who was normally so proud of her hair, had shaved her head, she replied: “I don’t know.”
Psychologists later testified that Butler said she shaved her head because God said she would have to do so in order to get into heaven.
Mr Butler said he had to step in when his wife tried to shave their daughter’s head. When he had to leave for work just before midnight, he said his daughter asked if she could come with him to work. He said no, instead giving her his cellphone with 911 programmed on speed dial, and locked her in his bedroom.
Police found the child’s body before dawn the next morning, wrapped in blankets in the front seat of the couple’s SUV off Queen’s Highway in East End. They found her mother on the beach nearby, wet and sandy without shoes.
The verdict came down to whether Butler knew what she was doing was wrong. Summing up her case on the last day of the trial, Crown prosecutor Cheryll Richards asked: “Following God’s command or not, did she know what she was doing was wrong?”
She did know that killing her daughter was wrong, Richards argued.
Defence attorney Trevor Burke did not dispute that his client killed her daughter, but said she was not in her right mind when she committed the crime and should be convicted of manslaughter instead of murder. The events leading up to the killing, Burke argued, were a “very clear indication of significant psychosis”. Ultimately, that argument did not sway the judge.
A sentencing date has not been set, but the attorneys and the judge agreed to choose a date between late April and early May.