Tamara Olita Butler was sentenced to life imprisonment on Friday for the October 2014 murder of her daughter Bethany, who was six years old.
However, under new legislation, she may be eligible to apply for release in 26 years and 191 days.
Butler, who will be 39 on May 19, could therefore be out of prison before her 66th birthday.
Under the Conditional Release Law, which came into effect in February, when a person is sentenced to a term of life imprisonment, the judge is obliged to specify the period of incarceration the person must serve before being eligible to be considered for conditional release. For murder, that period is 30 years unless there are extenuating or aggravating circumstances.
Justice Alistair Malcolm explained the principles of the law before citing the features of what he called “this horrific killing” of a vulnerable child.
He noted that the period of imprisonment has to satisfy the requirements of retribution, deterrence and rehabilitation.
In Butler’s case, she was in a position of trust and inflicted “undoubted physical and mental agony” on her daughter by stabbing her 35 times. These aggravating features raised the 30-year period to 34 years, the judge said.
However, he accepted psychiatric evidence that Butler has a paranoid personality disorder. That did not amount to a legal defense of “diminished responsibility,” but it did lower her degree of culpability, he said.
That was an extenuating circumstance, the judge accepted. He also agreed with defense attorney Laurence Aiolfi that Butler was of previous good character and had a history of being an excellent mother to Bethany until the night of the murder. For those reasons he reduced the period of 34 years by six, for a total of 28 years.
From that figure he deducted the one year and 174 days Butler has already been in custody.
He then told Butler, as the law requires, “The sentence is therefore imprisonment for life with a period of incarceration before you are considered for conditional release on license of 26 years and 191 days.”
Trial by judge alone took place in March. The defense, led by senior counsel Trevor Burke, argued that Butler was not in her right mind when she committed the crime and should be convicted of manslaughter instead of murder. Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryll Richards submitted that the question was whether Butler knew what she was doing was wrong.
Before passing sentence, Justice Malcolm summed up the evidence presented at trial and his reasons for finding Butler guilty of murder.
On the night of Oct. 26-27, 2014, Butler used at least two knives to inflict wounds all over Bethany’s body. The pathologist had listed 35 wounds to the girl’s head, back and chest, with other wounds to the abdomen. The killing took place in the master bedroom, where investigators later found blood on the floor, and seven of Bethany’s footprints were identified in the blood.
“Clearly she was moving about trying to escape your attack when she was already severely wounded,” the judge said. “The terror and agony that she must have experienced being attacked in that way by her mother is unimaginable.”
Bethany’s father, Lenford Butler, a police sergeant, had locked Bethany in the room at her request because her mother had tried to shave the child’s head after shaving her own. Mr. Butler gave his daughter a phone so that she could call him.
“You broke into the bedroom, removed the phone and shaved her hair off before killing her,” Justice Malcolm told the convicted woman.
Having heard evidence from psychiatrists called by both the prosecution and defense, the judge said he was not satisfied, on a balance of probabilities, that Butler was acting under the influence of a voice which she told psychiatrists was the voice of God. Neither was he satisfied that she was suffering from a depressive type of schizo-affective disorder.
He preferred the evidence that Butler had a paranoid personality disorder with traits of a narcissistic personality disorder. Because of this, the judge said, Butler over-reacted and made grand gestures. When she thought her husband was being unfaithful she went into the church pulpit and announced it to the congregation.
The shaving of her head was a grand gesture to get attention from her husband, he judge said.
When Mr. Butler did not react in the way she wished, she then felt “utterly rejected, humiliated and furious. Your feelings of anger with your husband were then directed at Bethany, particularly, in my view, because she had refused to have her head shaved and because she had asked to be in a locked bedroom away from you. Dr. Myers [one of the psychiatrists] says in his opinion you vented your rage on Bethany, killing and disfiguring her in a way to exact revenge on your husband because you thought he was unfaithful and did not care about you.”