Springfield's Brian Butler sentenced to 28 years for stabbing girlfriend on Wall Street
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION - A 60-year-old Springfield resident was given a sentence of 28-years-to-life on Thursday for the April 2016 stabbing of his girlfriend in an apartment on Wall Street.
The unusually lengthy sentence for a first degree aggravated domestic assault came about because of Brian Butler’s status as a habitual offender and means that, with the credit he has for time already served in pre-trial detention, Butler will be 86 before he is even eligible for release from jail.
“I’m asking this honorable court to grant that I be allowed to leave prison vertically and not horizontally,” Butler had implored the judge, adding, “Maybe to watch my grandchildren grow and marry. Allow me to be the grandfather, father and friend that I see myself being able to be with the help of a sponsor and sobriety.”
“I would never have done this horrible thing…were it not for the Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation due to alcohol,” Butler insisted.
Butler’s former girlfriend Bryana Goodrich took the witness stand and pulled up her shirt to show the courtroom four of the large scars on her abdomen where Butler had plunged a hunting knife into several of her internal organs, narrowly missing her heart.
Goodrich said the attack was all the more shocking because Butler had been in jail for months awaiting trial on domestic and sexual assault charges against her and she had no idea that he’d been released a few days earlier.
She was lying in bed taking a mid-afternoon nap when, she recalled, “I heard someone come in and I didn’t even open my eyes really and then all the sudden someone grabbed me by the throat and it was Brian and he said “Remember me?!”
Goodrich, who is legally blind, said she went for her phone but Butler batted it away from her and then drew a large knife out of his pants.
“I just kind of laid down because I didn’t want to get it in the heart or the arteries but I got cut real bad,” Goodrich testified, “It seemed like forever. He got four really good shots in my belly and one right here in my hand. Had I not put my hand up like this he would have got my heart. This hand doesn’t work very well now.”
“He was beet beet red and his hair was all riled up and his veins were popped out on his neck and it was anger. He was angry,” Goodrich recalled. “I started to scream ‘Help me! Help me! Help me!’ because my upstairs neighbor was home.”
“I was trying to follow (the knife) but all I could see was movement because of my eyesight. I thought ‘This is it. I’m going to die.’ Everything runs through your head and I was just kicking and kicking and kicking and finally…he went down and I went over him and made it out onto Wall Street, the street itself, and I laid there and my blood pretty much covered the street.”
Goodrich remembered cars coming to a halt and a driver getting out and asking “Oh my gosh what happened to you?”
“I said ‘Brian Butler did it. He’s wearing a jean jacket and would someone please check on my dog?’ because all I thought was that he was going to kill my dog,” Goodrich recounted.
Goodrich woke up in the trauma room at Springfield Hospital unable to breathe but doesn’t recall being transferred by medical helicopter to the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. She does remember finally waking up there in the Intensive Care Unit.
“I take medication now so that I don’t have nightmares,” Goodrich explained on the witness stand.
“Do you fear Mr. Butler to this day?” asked Windsor County State’s Attorney David Cahill.
“Absolutely,” Goodrich replied, “I think his philosophy is the job’s not over till it’s over,” and then she broke down in tears.
Goodrich wiped away tears as she listened to testimony in the courtroom this week
Butler, a father of four who moved to Vermont in 2004, had a record of assaults in Georgia and was convicted of the 2011 drunken stabbing of a neighbor of his when he was living in Ludlow. Witnesses to that assault said Butler was “highly intoxicated” and became enraged because the neighbor washed a boat in their driveway sending water down the street in front of Butler’s home.
Goodrich testified that she and Butler met and became “buddies” while they were both living at a motel in Rockingham and at the beginning of 2015 they moved in together in North Springfield as a way to share companionship and expenses.
As their relationship evolved into a relationship Goodrich said Butler’s drinking escalated from a 12-pack of Miller Natural Ice beer a day clear up to “well over” 30 cans a day.
“He was always intoxicated,” Goodrich told the court.
The police who arrested Butler within the hour after Goodrich was stabbed recorded a 0.303 percent blood alcohol level on a breath test they gave him (which, for comparison, would be more than 3-and-a-half times Vermont's legal limit for driving).
During this week’s sentencing, when it came to his turn to speak, Butler choked up as he discussed his alcoholism.
“I’ve had time alone to think about what my disease has cost everyone I’ve ever cared about and everyone I’ve ever loved,” Butler said before adding, “I’m not using this as an excuse or a reason for my actions because I have none.”
Defense Attorney Michael Shane asked Judge Timothy Tomasi to craft a sentence that would give Butler a shot at intensive behavioral therapy for his “untreated mental illness” and alcoholism so that “at least he has a shot at a few free days on the other side of this.”
Shane noted that Butler had attained the rank of sergeant in the military and had twice been honorably discharged. He also pointed to businesses that Butler had run successfully earlier in his life before illness and disabilities took over.
Butler stood as his 28 year sentence was pronounced by Judge Tomasi
Judge Tomasi responded that, “today is All Saints Day and the court does believe in redemption…,” but he quickly pointed to testimony by Goodrich who said that she had repeatedly heard Butler discuss various ways and means of hurting, stabbing, or “sticking” other people “like you and I were discussing something like skiing. Like it was a hobby that we enjoyed."
The judge began by saying that “sentencing is one of the court’s most difficult jobs, especially here where we have multiple acts of violence, violations of court orders, medical issues regarding intent and a defendant who potentially faces a life in prison sentence.”
“The state has shown by the preponderance of the evidence that this was premeditated and the defendant did have an intent to kill Ms. Goodrich at the time,” the judge continued, although he said he did feel that Butler had shown remorse during his statements in court.
Despite some points in Butler’s favor which the judge listed, he concentrated on what he termed Butler’s record “of violence and intimidation” stretching back decades.
“He’s used or threatened to use deadly force on family members, wives, lovers, neighbors and strangers,” Judge Tomasi recounted. “He’s nearly killed someone for whom he professed love today here in court. His past victims, who know him well, remain fearful of him.”
“He’s violated court orders multiple times. He’s a high risk to reoffend. He’s taken some joy out of hurting people. The defendant said that when he drinks he becomes “Dr. Jekyl” and Ms. Goodrich has described it as him becoming “the Hulk.” Either way, he presents a clear and present danger to others.”
“While no one has died at his hands, the defendant is a habitual offender. He did nearly kill Ms. Goodrich and it is only by the grace of God and fine medical treatment and perhaps, in poetic justice, the defensive skills he taught (her) that allowed (her) to be here today which we are thankful for.”
“He stabbed his neighbor (in Ludlow). He’s had forced sexual encounters with two women. He’s choked two other women. He menaced his son and police officers with knives, made threats to kill others, assaulted Ms. Goodrich, sexual assaulted her, and has a long history of criminal assaults, stalking and violations of court orders. He does take some pleasure from feeling that he is above the law,” the judge concluded.
Outside the courthouse after Judge Tomasi pronounced the 28-years-to-life sentence, Goodrich stood with the aid of a walker and said she was “elated” by the judge's decision to go with the long sentence even though the state had dismissed attempted murder and sexual assault charges against Butler as part of the overall plea agreement.
“I’m so happy. He’s the scariest thing out there,” Goodrich said.
Commenting afterwards as well, Windsor County State’s Attorney Cahill said “Mr. Butler deserved every year of it.”
Cahill also noted that, “There’s going to be legislation this year trying to change the habitual offender law and I’d just like to point out that it is that law that is allowing us to protect the public from Mr. Butler who has committed no less than nine acts of significant violence that are noted on his criminal record.”
Goodrich hugged Windsor County State's Attorney David Cahill after the hearing was over
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