Judge to decide on sanity of woman who killed daughter

Attorneys made their closing arguments Monday in the case against Tamara Butler, accused of killing her 6-year-old daughter in October 2014. The question for the verdict in the judge-alone trial is not whether Butler killed her daughter, but if she knew what she was doing was wrong.

Bethany Butler
Bethany Butler

Butler told psychologists after her arrest that God had told her to shave her head and then told her to kill her daughter Bethany. The question over the defendant’s state of mind will mean the difference between murder and manslaughter when Justice Alastair Malcolm delivers his verdict on Monday.

“Following God’s command or not, did she know what she was doing was wrong?” said Crown prosecutor Cheryll Richards.

The weeklong trial included testimony from police, several psychologists and Butler’s husband Lenford Butler, a sergeant in the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service. Mr. Butler told the court how his wife changed dramatically after she lost her job with the police service as a civilian employee working on the front desk.

He told the court how, on the night of the murder, his wife shaved her own hair and eyebrows before trying to shave their daughter’s. He stepped in to stop his wife, but later he had to go to work for a midnight to 7 a.m. shift. He testified that he was concerned enough – and his daughter was scared – that he locked the girl in the master bedroom and gave her his cellphone, putting 911 on speed dial.

The Crown argued that Butler knew what she was doing was wrong. Ms. Richards acknowledged that the defendant was “substantially impaired.” But, she said, the crucial question is one of degree.

The prosecutor pointed to who Butler responded to after police found her early on Oct. 27. 2014, and whether she was, as the defense and several doctors suggested, “in a catatonic state.” She did not respond to officers once she got to the hospital, but she did respond to a doctor and she got on an exam table when requested.

“If she had been in a truly catatonic state, there would have been no selectivity over who she corresponded with,” Ms. Richards argued.

In transcribed sessions with psychiatrist Dr. Marc Lockhart, Ms. Richards said the doctor led the defendant to answer in certain ways to make her sound less stable. “She’s thinking about culpability in her mind very, very clearly,” she said.

The defense, for its part, did not dispute that Butler killed her daughter. But, said defense attorney Trevor Burke, the question is why “an otherwise devoted and loving mother” would kill her own child. To see that his client was not in her right mind, Mr. Burke said, the judge can “rely on the simple facts of the case itself.”

The attorney, citing testimony from psychologists, said his client believed that God told her that she would have to shave her hair and remove her fake fingernails before she could be admitted into heaven.

The events that night leading up to the murder were a “very clear indication of significant psychosis,” he said.

To say, as the Crown argued in part, that Butler shaved her head and killed her daughter to get revenge on her husband for suspected infidelity, Mr. Burke said, was “too trite, too simple, and barely scratches the surface.”

The judge set 2:30 p.m. March 21 to deliver his verdict.