Susan (Susie) Butlin. Photo:

The normally serene community of Tatamagouche was rocked last September by the murder of a 58-year-old woman named Susan (Susie) Butlin, who sold real estate and worked at a local restaurant.

What made it even more difficult was the man accused of first-degree murder was Butlin’s next-door neighbour in Bayhead — a hamlet seven kilometres west of Tatamagouche — where both accused and victim knew each other.

A preliminary hearing for Ernest (“Junior”) Ross Duggan, 49, is scheduled for September 10 in Truro provincial court. What’s undecided is who will be the judge: the defence lawyer representing Junior Duggan is still considering whether to file a motion asking Judge Al Bégin to stand down or recuse himself from the preliminary hearing.

Duggan’s Legal Aid lawyer Dave Mahoney says he has not filed that paperwork. He is still waiting on disclosure from the Crown. Yesterday, Judge Bégin set March 6 as a date to receive a status report on whether there will be a challenge, but that could be extended.

At a previous court hearing, the judge indicated he could see no reason why he shouldn’t continue with the Duggan murder case. Yesterday, questioned by the Halifax Examiner, Mahoney adamantly refused to discuss his reasons for making an argument the judge should step aside.

Here’s what we do know (based on court documents) about the history between Junior Duggan and Judge Bégin.

On August 10, 2017, Susan Butlin applied to the court for a peace bond to keep Duggan away, accusing him of sexual assault at her home on July 2 and of vandalism to her swimming pool after she told Duggan’s wife she planned to report the assault to the RCMP. On August 30, 2017 Judge Bégin signed an order that Duggan have no contact whatsoever with Butlin.

On September 17, Butlin was found dead. The next morning, Duggan was wounded in a shootout with RCMP officers after a tense, hours-long stand-off at a local cemetery. Duggan is facing attempted murder charges for firing at the RCMP officers. Drunk driving charges dating from August 22, 2017 have been dismissed.

Applying to have a judge taken off a case is “unusual,” says lawyer Dave Mahoney, and he will do so “only if necessary to provide a full answer on defence.”

A sad story with more to come.

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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