Knysz sentenced for Trooper Butterfield’s murder

Eric Knysz during sentencing proceedings. (April 8, 2014)

LUDINGTON, Mich. (WOOD) — The man who shot and killed Michigan State Trooper Paul Butterfield apologized Tuesday before being sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.

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

Eric Knysz, 20, shot Butterfield in the head on Sept. 9, 2013 during a traffic stop on Custer Road in rural Mason County. A jury unanimously found Knysz guilty of all counts he faced, including first-degree murder of a peace officer, on Feb. 25.

Inside Timeline of the Butterfield murder case

The murder conviction carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

During Tuesday’s sentencing proceedings, Knsyz for the first time took advantage of his right to speak in open court. Reading from a handwritten statement, he turned to Butterfield’s family and friends to apologize.

“I would like to say that I’m sorry for the pain and the suffering that I caused the family and friends of Trooper Butterfield. … I’m sorry. I never meant to take the life of your son. I never meant for any of this to happen,” Knysz said.

He also apologized for the pain he caused his own family.

“And last, I would just like to point out that my wife and my mother had no voluntary participation in this heinous crime or after it was committed,” he concluded.

Knysz’s wife Sarah Knysz is already serving a sentence for her part in the crime. His mother Tammi Spofford faces related charges and is awaiting trial.

Before Knysz spoke, prosecutors said he had threatened corrections officers while he was being held in the Mason County Jail. That allegedly came in the form of using a hand gesture to mime shooting one officer and verbally threatening another. Knysz shook his head in denial of that allegation.

Jennifer Sielski, Butterfield’s fiancee, spoke at the sentencing. She called Butterfield her “friend” and “inspiration.”

“Nothing can bring Paul back or ease the pain,” she said. “My only hope is that he knew I was there with him.”

“Today my wedding dress hangs in my closet next to Paul’s state trooper uniform, neither one ever to be worn again,” she continued.

Butterfield’s father, also named Paul Butterfield, also addressed his son’s murderer.

“You devastated the lives of my wife and me, plus the life of his beautiful fiancee Jennifer and her family,” he said. “You have also devastated your own life. At the age of 19 years old, you have effectively ended the life and freedom for yourself.”

And even before Kynsz read his apology, Butterfield Sr. was skeptical.

“If you say how sorry you are for what happened, it will be for one reason and one reason only, and that is you got caught,” Butterfield Sr. said.

“I am very struck that what we are dealing with is a person who was serving the public,” Judge Richard Cooper said before handing down Knysz’s sentence of life in prison.

Inside Photos of the murder trial and sentencing of Eric Knysz

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

Mason County Chief Deputy Steve Hansen shows a jury the hat police say Trooper Paul Butterfield was wearing when he was shot. (Feb. 19, 2014)
(Mason County Chief Deputy Steve Hansen shows a jury the hat police say Trooper Butterfield was wearing when he was shot. Feb. 19, 2014)

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. The first police interview with Knysz was done the day after the shooting and another one was conducted on Sept. 12. In both interviews, 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, 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.”

Sarah Knysz was sentenced in December to between two and five years in prison for her part in the crime. During the hearing in which she entered a guilty plea, she described being present when her husband shot Butterfield, apparently before the trooper was able to finish greeting the pair after pulling them over.

Eric Knysz’s mother Tammi Spofford faces related charges of accessory after the fact to murder and unlawfully driving away of an automobile. Eric and Sarah Knysz allegedly went to her house after the shooting. She then allegedly went with the pair to the location where they stole a car intended to be used in their escape, and took away the truck Knysz had been driving at the time of the shooting. She is expected to stand trial in May.

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