Knysz family: Organ donation could save 7

Eric Knysz listens during his trial for the murder of Trooper Paul Butterfield. (Feb. 20, 2014)

IRONS, Mich. (WOOD) — The family of Eric Knysz knows he will always be remembered as the man who killed Michigan State Police Trooper Paul Butterfield and they know that donating his organs to save lives won’t change that.

But, they say, it is important to them to help cope after he hanged himself in prison Monday.

“This doesn’t make up for the trooper dying and in no way are these people who are going to receive these organs, are their lives more important than the trooper, not at all,” Knysz’s older sister, Bonnie Knysz, told 24 Hour News 8 on Wednesday. “Eric took the trooper’s life and his own, but in that he’ll be able to save other people’s lives.”

Bonnie Knysz speaks to 24 Hour News 8's Ken Kolker. (April 16, 2014)
(Bonnie Knysz speaks to 24 Hour News 8’s Ken Kolker. April 16, 2014)

They say doctors could start taking his organs, including his lungs, kidneys, liver and heart as soon as Thursday.

Bonnie Knysz said her family learned from a friend that he had tried to kill himself on Monday in prison, hanging himself with a bed sheet. The friend, she said, had seen it on TV.

They rushed to the hospital in Jackson. The next day, a doctor told them he had was clinically brain dead. He was already on a ventilator.

“He was gone,” Bonnie Knysz said. “It wasn’t one of these cases where we could leave him on life support for a while and hope for the best and just pray that a miracle would happen.”

She said she believes her brother already was planning suicide before he was sentenced last Tuesday to life in prison without parole for killing Butterfield during a traffic stop in rural Mason County in September 2013

He apologized in court, confessed to a priest, and wrote his sister a letter of apology.

Bonnie Knysz shows 24 Hour News 8 a letter she got from her brother Eric Knysz before his sentencing. (April 16, 2014)
(Bonnie Knysz shows 24 Hour News 8 a letter she got from her brother Eric Knysz before his sentencing. April 16, 2014)

“I’m still trying to accept the fact that I killed someone,” it reads in part. “I can’t f****** believe any of this. I ruined so many lives not just mine an Butterfields (sic).”

The letter also said that Eric Knysz’s wife Sarah, who testified against her husband and is serving prison time for her part in the crime, wanted a divorce. Bonnie Knysz said Sarah never filed for divorce.

Knysz asks his sister in the note to “let my wife know I never wanted this to happen. I wanted us to raise our son together and love each other with unconditional love.”

“I don’t know what to say to her about ruining her and (our son’s) lives,” he continues. “I have never been this ashamed of myself in my entire life, the word sorry is not suitable for how I feel toward them and you, my family and his family as well.”

As the letter comes to a close, Knysz apologizes to his sister again and tells her he loves her.

“Stay strong Sissy. Love your Little Man,” the card signs off.

On Monday, four days after he was transferred to state prison, he was found to have used a bed sheet to hang himself in his cell at a state prison facility in Jackson.

“He couldn’t live with the fact that he actually took somebody’s life,” his sister said. “I mean, yeah, people are still going to say he’s a coward. That’s their opinion. You can’t change somebody’s opinion.”

She said she believes the prison system did everything right.

Prison officials told the family that Knysz showed no signs of being suicidal during screening, so they did not put him on suicide watch, she said. They said they were checking on him every 30 minutes.

Then, she said, guards used CPR to try to save him.

“They chose professionalism, but it’s kind of hard because they know his crime and a corrections officer and state police officer are family,” she said.

She said guards waited in a corner of the hospital room as family held his hand and said goodbye.

“MDOC was amazing,” she said. “They didn’t have to be as compassionate as they were. They gave us hugs when we were crying.”

Then, she said, the family decided to follow a decision Knysz had made several years ago to become an organ donor.

Doctors, she said, told the family it could help save seven lives — something that is helping her family grieve.

“Of course, we’re devastated by the loss, but we don’t think there’s going to be seven people out there that are carrying on Eric,” she said. “It’s that there’s seven  people out there that are alive because of Eric’s gift.”

But she knows and understands that her brother will be remembered as the man who killed Trooper Butterfield.

“I don’t expect them to see him as a hero, especially family members and friends and co-workers of the trooper,” Bonnie Knysz said. “They’re never going to see him as anything but what he did to their loved one, and I understand that. I don’t blame them at all. I’m really sorry for what happened to the trooper.”

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