Nick Vanasse has been found guilty of murdering Steven Butler and assaulting Butler’s son in a 2019 confrontation outside the victim’s family home in Ottawa’s Overbrook neighbourhood.
The jury announced its unanimous verdict in an Ottawa courtroom on Friday morning, to brief shouts of joy and claps from supporters of the Butler family.
Vanasse, wearing a mask in the prisoner’s box, moved his hand quickly to his face as the verdicts were read, then leaned back in his chair.
The automatic sentence for second-degree murder is life in prison, but it’s up to Superior Court Justice Kevin Phillips to determine how long Vanasse will be ineligible to apply for parole — which can be anywhere from 10 to 25 years.
Phillips asked jurors to give him their opinion on the matter, and court has been adjourned to Wednesday for sentencing.
Verbal confrontation escalated
In the early morning hours of Sept. 8, 2019, Vanasse was carrying a BB gun and a silver knife as he walked home on Presland Road in Overbrook, just east of Ottawa’s core, after a night of drinking and smoking marijuana, prosecutor John Semenoff told court during closing arguments in Superior Court earlier this week.
He ran into Steven Butler’s son, Bradley Butler, and a friend of Butler’s, and after an ensuing verbal confrontation, Vanasse flashed his BB gun at them.
Vanasse then walked to nearby Whitton Place and started shooting the BB gun at Bradley Butler and his friend, Semenoff told the jury.
Afterward he made two phone calls, and in one of them, surveillance video captured Vanasse bragging, “I shot his ass.”
Vanasse then went to the Butler home where he yelled for Bradley Butler’s friend to come outside, started shooting his BB gun at the house, and fired at Steven Butler’s wife, Nicole, who was standing in an upstairs window.
“You can imagine the shock and the fear that’s brought to Nicole and to Steven Butler, knowing that someone was outside shooting at his wife, threatening his family,” Semenoff told the jury.
Vanasse was defending himself, defense argues
The unarmed, screaming Steven Butler ran outside in his underwear just as the reinforcements Vanasse had called showed up at the scene.
Vanasse continued shooting his BB gun at Steven Butler, then stabilized him in the chest.
The defense presented no evidence at trial, but in his closing statement, defense lawyer Michael Smith argued Vanasse was acting in self defense when he stabbed Steven Butler, who was bigger, older, stronger and lunging at him when it happened.
Co-accused’s single charge dismissed
A co-accused who was with Vanasse at the scene of the homicide, Shawn Leblanc, had stood trial for aggravated assault alongside Vanasse at the outset.
What the jury didn’t know before it reached a verdict on Vanasse’s charges is that once the Crown completed its case, defense lawyer James Harbic made an application for a directed verdict for Leblanc.
Harbic argued the Crown failed to make out the legal elements required for an aggravated assault offence.
Justice Phillips agreed, and dismissed the single charge against Leblanc.