Rodney Butler takes witness stand in own defence in kidnapping, pistol-whipping trial

by | Mar 21, 2024

Accused weeps when recalling death of partner

Rodney Butler took the witness stand in provincial court for a full day on March 20 and wept about the fatal shooting of his partner, Christine Pelletier-Thibodeau. Still, he denied he kidnapped and pistol-whipped his business cohort Chris Demerchant.

Butler, 50, of Bulls Creek, was charged by RCMP with intentionally discharging a firearm while reckless as to the life and safety of another person, indictable assault, uttering threats, using a handgun to kidnap Chris Demerchant, unlawful confinement, possession of a weapon dangerous to the public peace, possession of a firearm without a licence, and illegal possession of a firearm in a vehicle on Nov. 13, 2021, at Bulls Creek.

No charges have been laid in relation to the shooting of Pelletier-Thibodeau, who died as a result of her injuries. Police tape was erected around the property, including Butler’s residence, which was surrounded by a vehicle salvage yard.

“She was dying right in front of me,” Butler told the court, wiping away tears. “I did CPR and tried to stop the bleeding. They (police) said she’s gone, she’s dead and I said ‘no.’ I covered her with a blanket. I didn’t want to leave her there. I’ve been living with this for two and a half years.”

The fateful day began with Butler, Pelletier-Thibodeau and Timothy Grant of Canterbury heading to Scotts Siding around 2 p.m. to pick up an old van at Demerchant’s residence. They were travelling in Thibodeau’s Ford Escape with her behind the wheel.

Butler said they returned to Scotts Siding later to retrieve another vehicle from Demerchant. Throughout the afternoon, the three had been drinking beer and twisted tea.

Earlier in the trial, Timothy Grant testified Butler wanted to talk to Ryan Purvis, who was staying with Demerchant at the time. Butler and Purvis were involved in an argument the day before at the salvage yard, and Butler was upset about threats Purvis made about burning down his home.

“He was unpredictable and dangerous,” Butler said about Purvis (who died in 2023 in an unrelated drowning in Woodstock).

When they arrived, they saw people sitting at the kitchen table near the front window of Demerchant’s trailer. The three of them walked toward the home. Grant waited on the porch while Butler and Pelletier-Thibodeau went inside.

Grant said he could hear yelling and screaming during an argument between Butler, Pelletier-Thibodeau and Demerchant. Grant went back to the car and waited in the front seat. From the vehicle, he saw Butler slam his fist on the kitchen table.

Other testimony came from Krista Grant and Kenneth Hatheway, who were in Demerchant’s kitchen. They both said Butler drove a knife into the table and then escorted Demerchant from his home at gunpoint.

On Wednesday, Butler denied the knife incident and said he did not have a gun when he went into Demerchant’s home. He said he simply wanted to know where to find the vehicle he came to get for salvage.

Demerchant told him Purvis was using it to boost his car in the woods near Benton. They left the residence with Demerchant, who climbed in the backseat with Butler. Pelletier-Thibodeau got back behind the wheel, and they drove off to find Ryan Purvis.

Grant testified an argument quickly ensued between Butler and Demerchant in the backseat. He said Butler began punching his victim and then pistol-whipped Demerchant around the head with a nine-millimetre handgun. The beating went on.

Grant said he could see what was happening from the front passenger seat. Demerchant tried to fight back but eventually began crying and screaming for Butler to stop. When Butler pointed the gun at his legs, Demerchant screamed: “no, no.”

During his testimony, Butler denied the entire incident about beating and threatening Demerchant in the backseat.

They drove on and spotted Purvis up ahead on an old woods road near Benton. Purvis was using a different van to jump-start a black Pontiac Grand Prix parked near the woods with a pile of fir tips in the back.

Butler got out and walked toward Purvis, who was seated in the van. Grant testified he heard nine or 10 shots being fired. It was around 6:30 p.m. Grant said he did not believe Purvis returned any fire. He said Purvis soon fled the scene “full blast” by putting the van in reverse. He struck Pelletier-Thibodeau’s Ford Escape on the way by.

Butler said he approached the van because he could see a dome light on. He saw Purvis leaning down inside the vehicle as if looking for something. He thought he was reaching for a gun.

“There were multiple guns at Chris Demerchant’s and Ryan Purvis had access to them,” Butler stated.

As Purvis put the van into reverse, Butler got clipped and fell down. He heard a popping sound and saw Purvis bump into the Ford Escape as he sped away.

Butler went to get a nine-millimetre Smith and Wesson handgun from under the seat of the Ford Escape, and he fired it as Purvis made his retreat. He said he kept the gun in the vehicle for protection.

“I didn’t know what he was going to do or if he was coming back,” Butler said about Purvis.

Under cross-examination, Butler agreed several shots fired into the back of the car parked in the woods came from a nine-millimetre handgun. The Smith and Wesson gun was never located by police after the incident.

Butler told the court he did not know where the handgun went. He thought he put it back under the seat in the Ford Escape. Police towed the vehicle away during the investigation.

RCMP surround a home in Bulls Creek after the shooting death of Christine Pelletier-Thibodeau in Nov. 2021. Rodney Butler is on trial for kidnapping, assault, and weapons charges related to an incident the day before his partner died. (Stephen Chisholm photo)

Butler returned to the back seat with Demerchant and told Pelletier-Thibodeau to follow Purvis. They drove back to Scotts Siding where Purvis was sitting in the van with its engine smoking. Pelletier-Thibodeau rear-ended the van as Purvis tried to make his exit. Purvis fell under the van, got up, and ran into Demerchant’s home. Butler went after him.

Still in the vehicle, Grant said he saw Butler throw a chair. He thought Purvis might have been inside looking for a gun, but Grant said he never saw Purvis again that night. Butler testified he only went as far as the porch and did not go inside. He saw Purvis with something in his hands, so he headed for the van.

Grant said he ran out the driveway and down the Scotts Siding road. Pelletier-Thibodeau followed in the Ford Escape. Then the van barreled out of the driveway in reverse, hit a mailbox, and went backwards into a ditch. He saw Butler come up out of the ditch near the van.

Butler agreed with this evidence, explaining that he kept his head down while slamming the van into reverse, which caused it to go into the ditch. Butler said Demerchant was still in the Ford Escape with Pelletier-Thibodeau while Grant stood outside the vehicle.

Earlier in the trial, Demerchant testified he was “dazed up” and bleeding profusely when he looked up from the backseat and saw he was back home.

Butler disagreed during his testimony. He said Demerchant was drinking beer in the backseat and had no bruises on his face.

Butler testified that Demerchant made a sexual advance toward Pelletier-Thibodeau while in the Ford Escape, so he punched him in the face as he tried to get out of the vehicle. He said Demerchant fell and hit his head on the rim of a tire.

At this point, Butler said Pelletier-Thibodeau and Grant kicked Demerchant several times in the head until he told them to stop. They returned Demerchant to the backseat of the Ford Escape and headed for Earle DeLong’s residence at Dead Creek. Pelletier-Thibodeau was still behind the wheel.

During cross-examination, Demerchant looked at photographs of Demerchant’s injuries to his face and head. Butler said he was responsible for giving Demerchant a black eye but denied causing any other injuries.

“Chris Demerchant was never unconscious,” Butler said. “He had a little bit of blood on his head. It wasn’t that bad.”

Under cross-examination, Butler agreed that the blood found inside the Ford Escape could have been Demerchant’s.

Butler testified they drove Grant to his father’s residence to meet his girlfriend. He and Pelletier-Thibodeau were going to Earle DeLong’s for a beer and planned to take Demerchant home to Scotts Siding.

“Chris didn’t want to go home,” Butler testified. “He was scared of Ryan (Purvis).”

After leaving the DeLong residence, Butler said they drove to his home at Bulls Creek and sat around in the basement socializing, watching TV, drinking beer, twisted tea, and smoking pot. Pelletier-Thibodeau was seated near the basement door. Demerchant was sitting in a wooden chair having a beer. He testified during the trial that he thought Butler intended to kill him.

“He held a gun to my head and told me a human being skinned out looks like a bear skinned out,” Demerchant told the court. “I feared for my life.”

However, Butler denied any further confrontation with Demerchant, noting he even apologized for punching him earlier in the evening. He said the phone rang around 1 a.m., and Pelletier-Thibodeau passed it to Demerchant.

“He said: “I’m okay. I’ll be home in the morning,” Butler recalled.

Butler said they planned to sober up and take Demerchant home in the morning. However, Demerchant testified that Butler kept the handgun on him while Pelletier-Thibodeau continued to jab him with a shotgun. His phone rang. It was his brother, Troy Demerchant.

“They told me to tell him I’m alright, don’t worry about it,” Demerchant testified. “I had a gun to the side of my head.”

Soon after the phone call, Troy Demerchant drove into Butler’s driveway in his truck. Troy Demerchant shouted for Butler. In response, Pelletier-Thibodeau and Butler both opened fire into the yard. Suddenly, Pelletier- Thibodeau was hit.

“When she got shot, everything went silent,” Chris Demerchant testified. “That’s when I got out of there.”

As Demerchant ran past Pelletier-Thibodeau, he said he heard her say: “You shot me Rodney.”

“He shot her in the back of the neck,” Demerchant told the court.

Butler testified the evening in the basement was winding down until Pelletier-Thibodeau saw the dome light on in her Ford Escape parked outside. Butler said they thought someone was trying to rob them since they always kept a large amount of cash inside the vehicle.

Pelletier-Thibodeau went to the basement door and Butler was right behind her when he said a shot rang out. She was hit in the neck. She fell into Butler, and he laid her on the ground. He began screaming for help and ran inside to call 911.

Butler said he thought Demerchant left the basement while he was on the phone upstairs. Gunshots were still being fired at the house. He was frantic as he called 911 and grabbed a 12-gauge shotgun and some ammunition from upstairs.

Butler told the court he owned 27 firearms. He loaded the shotgun and fired one shot out the upstairs window, ran downstairs, and fired several more shots toward a silver truck in the yard. He spotted two figures standing nearby in the dark.

“When I shot back, they ran,” said Butler. “I yelled: ‘you dirty bastards shot my wife.'”

Under cross-examination, Butler said he thought Ryan Purvis was outside when the shooting started. He did not hear Troy Demerchant shouting outside.

Under cross-examination, Butler testified he did not hold Chris Demerchant against his will at any time, but he was vague about why he didn’t send him out the door to end the shootout.

“Nobody would have gone out that door at that point,” said Butler.

Crown Prosecutor Rodney Jordan suggested there was a lot of danger and havoc involved in Butler’s mission to retrieve a couple of old vehicles in Scotts Siding worth only a few hundred dollars.

“When I purchase something, I expect to get it,” said Butler.

He said Chris Demerchant towed away and sold both old vehicles after the incident. Butler said he was not angry about it, but he has had no further business dealings with Demerchant.

Timothy Grant testified earlier that Butler was crying when he called after the shooting to tell him about Pelletier-Thibodeau’s death.

“He said he shot Christine,” Grant testified. “I said ‘where’ and he said about 20-30 feet from the front door.”

During their conversation, Grant said Butler explained Pelletier-Thibodeau was killed by the nine-millimetre handgun, and the shooting happened when she accidentally walked into the line of fire. Grant said Butler called back later to say the Demerchants shot her.

Butler testified he did call Grant to inform him of her death.

“It was no surprise to him,” Butler told the court.

Associate Chief Judge Brian C. McLean adjourned the trial for closing arguments on April 4 at 1:30 p.m. Rodney Jordan was the Crown Prosecutor, and Alex Pate was the Defence Counsel.

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