Eric Knysz guilty of killing Trooper Butterfield

LUDINGTON, Mich. (WOOD) — A jury Tuesday found Eric Knysz guilty of murdering Michigan State Police Trooper Paul Butterfield.

Eric Knysz waits for the verdict in his murder trial. (Feb. 25, 2014)
(Knysz waits for the verdict in his murder trial – Feb. 25, 2014)

Knysz, 20, shot Butterfield in the head on Sept. 9, 2013 during a traffic stop on Custer Road in rural Mason County.

The jury deliberated for about 90 minutes Tuesday afternoon before unanimously finding Knysz guilty of all counts: First-degree murder of a peace officer, unlawful driving away of a vehicle, carrying a concealed weapon, felony firearm and being a habitual offender.

Knysz was stoic as the verdict was read — as he was during most of the trial. As he left the courthouse, he ignored questions from reporters.

The murder conviction carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Trooper Paul Butterfield's family reacts to the guilty verdict against Eric Knysz. (Feb. 25, 2014)
(Trooper Butterfield’s family reacts to the guilty verdict against Knysz -Feb. 25, 2014)

“I believe that justice was served today. Unfortunately, it doesn’t bring Paul back,” Butterfield’s fiancee Jennifer Sielski said. “But at least his killer won’t be out to hurt anybody else.”

She thanked investigators and the prosecution team for their work.

She told 24 Hour News 8 it was “too early to say” whether the trial and verdict will bring her any peace.

“I still grieve. I still try to pick up the pieces of my life,” Sielski said.

Some of Butterfield’s family members and friends cried after the verdict was announced. His parents declined to speak to 24 Hour News 8.

“It’s a bittersweet ending,” said Mason County Sheriff Kim Cole, who was friends with Butterfield and sat with the wounded trooper as they waited for the helicopter that took him to a Traverse City hospital where he would later die during surgery.

Michigan State Police Trooper Paul Butterfield. (Undated courtesy photo)
(Michigan State Police Trooper Paul Butterfield – undated courtesy photo)

“It was the ending we certainly expected and we had prepared for,” Cole continued, referring to the verdict. “I’m glad it’s all over. I’m just happy we can move forward.”

He said the trial was emotional even for seasoned law enforcement officers like him.

“It’s still hard to talk about. It’s hard when you hear Paul’s last words,” he said. “The prosecutor was right in his closing arguments. Paul helped solve his own case by providing vital information with respect to the license plate number (of the pickup truck Knysz was driving).”

He said Butterfield was trained to relay that information back to dispatchers, but that not having that information would have made it much more difficult to find the murderer.

Knysz’s family is also dealing with losing one of their own — though they expected the guilty verdict.

“Justice was done, but you’re talking about a 19-year-old boy that was on drugs,” Knyzs’s father John Knysz said.

During the trial, there was talk that Eric Knysz abused drugs following an accident in which he was hurt. It’s not clear what — if any — impact that had on the shooting, but John Knysz said it is the reason his son’s actions were out of character when he shot Butterfield.

“I do believe he did wrong — severely wrong  — but taking a 19-year-old boy and putting him in prison for the rest of his life, I don’t think that’s the answer,” John Knysz, a former police officer, said.

He offered condolences to Butterfield’s family. He said he stopped on Custer Road after the verdict was read Tuesday to pray for the fallen trooper.

Sheriff Cole said he doesn’t feel any pity for the man who killed his friend.

“It’s not hard for me to see him go to prison at all. He made a direct attack on all the good things our country stands for when he murdered a police officer. So I don’t feel the least bit sorry for him,” Cole said.

Despite two taped confessions to the murder and absent a plea offer from Mason County Prosecutor Paul Spaniola, Knysz pleaded not guilty to killing the 43-year-old trooper and his trial began last week.

Inside woodtv.com: Photos of the murder trial of Eric Knysz

Over the course of the trial, the 10 women and three men seated on the jury have heard from more than two dozen witnesses.

On the first day of trial, jurors heard the emotional testimony of Connie Helton, the first person to notice Butterfield lying in a pool of blood before two of her neighbors, Shannon and Charles Comstock, came to assist. They said Butterfield was awake an in pain at the time.

On day two of testimony, a number of officers took the stand to testify about capturing Eric Knysz and his wife Sarah Knysz, as well as shooting Eric Knysz as he ran from police and again brandished the weapon he used to shoot Butterfield.

An officer testifies in Eric Knysz' trial. (Feb. 24, 2015) Subsequent witnesses testified to the science used to investigate the murder and the DNA evidence found in the car Knysz stole to use as a getaway vehicle after allegedly leaving the truck he was driving at the time of the traffic stop with his mother.

Fingerprint experts testified to positively identifying Knysz’ fingerprint on the murder weapon, a Colt .357 Magnum handgun, which was recovered after Knysz dropped it when police shot him on Sept. 9.

Knysz’ father John Knysz testified that he owned the purported murder weapon.

But the most telling description of what happened that September evening came from the two people who were there to live through it — Eric’s wife Sarah and Eric Knysz himself.

Two taped hospital bed confessions from Eric Knysz were played Friday and Monday. The first interview was done the day after the shooting and another one was conducted on Sept. 12.

Inside woodtv.com: Knysz’s confession to Butterfield murder

In both interviews, Eric Knysz admitted to shooting Butterfield because he wanted to avoid being arrested due to his suspended license, which would have been reinstated six hours after the shooting took place.

In the second interview with police, Eric Knysz expressed remorse when asked what he would say to Butterfield’s family.

“I’d like to greatly apologize to them,” he said tearfully. “Tell them that I was — please hand them my sincere apologies. If I could of anything to change that, I would. If I could have him shoot me instead, I would.”

An emotional Sarah Knysz testified Monday morning that her husband pulled the gun he used to shoot Butterfield as soon as he realized he was being pulled over.

Eric Knysz and Sarah Knysz
(Eric Knysz and Sarah Knysz.)

“He said he was sorry but he had to do it… He didn’t want to go to prison,” she said on the witness stand.

Eric Knysz asked his defense attorney not to cross-examine his wife.

Tuesday, before the prosecutor and Knysz’s defense attorney rested their cases, the medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Butterfield’s body testified that it was a bullet to the head that killed Butterfield.

The lead investigator on the case, Sgt. Scott Rios, also testified.

Defense attorney David Glancy did not call any witnesses at trial and Knysz elected not to testify in his own defense.

Throughout the trial, Butterfield’s fiancee was in the courtroom, seated next to other loved ones of the late trooper. Some wore pins with Butterfield’s photo on them.

“Paul was a terrific law enforcement officer he did great work. It was important for me to be able to stand up in front of a jury and tell them what kind of person he was and how good of a job he did,” Prosecutor Spaniola said after Tuesday court proceedings were over. “There is no elation today because we lost a trooper. This is not a happy day. This was a day to see that justice was done.”

Knysz’s sentencing is scheduled for April 8.

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