GUILTY. Sarah Knysz describes how husband murdered Trooper Paul Butterfield

November 5, 2013
Sarah Knysz enters the Mason County courtroom, 8-months pregnant.

Sarah Knysz enters the Mason County courtroom, 8-months pregnant.

By Rob Alway. Editor-in-Chief.

Sarah Knysz tells the court her story

Sarah Knysz tells the court her story

LUDINGTON — Sarah Knysz pleaded guilty today in 51st Circuit Court. The 20-year-old Irons resident, who is 8-months-pregnant, appeared in court for a final conference. At that time Mason County Prosecutor Paul Spaniola offered her a chance to plea guilty, unconditionally, to the two charges against her: accessory to murder of a police officer after the fact and unlawfully driving away a motor vehicle. She faces up to five years in prison on the counts, that would run concurrent. Spaniola said the Manistee County prosecutor’s office is likely to drop the charges of unlawfully driving away a vehicle against her in that county.

Judge Richard Cooper listens to testimony.

Judge Richard Cooper listens to testimony.

Sarah Knysz told the court that she and her husband, Eric, were on their way back from Ludington the afternoon of Sept. 9, 2013, when Trooper Paul Butterfield pulled over the pickup truck Eric Knysz was driving on North Custer Road, just across the Free Soil Township line. She  said they went to Ludington so Eric could sell guns. She didn’t know how many guns he had with him, at least five, she said, and did not know how many he sold. She did not say who he sold the guns to. She Trooper Butterfield approached the vehicle, saying hello. At that time, she said her husband shot Butterfield in the head, not even giving the veteran police officer a chance to finish his sentence.

Sheriff Kim Cole listens.

Sheriff Kim Cole listens.

“He walked up to the (car) window and started to ask ‘how’s it going?’ and then I heard the gun shot. My husband pulled away and I looked behind and saw the trooper laying in the road.”

The couple then drove back to Eric’s mother’s house in Irons in Lake County. But first, they made a stop at his boss’ house, where Eric asked his boss for money, she said. The boss gave him money. She said they were there for a few minutes then went to his mother’s house. Sarah went
inside.

“I just went in and told her we need her,” Sarah said. During that time, Eric used napkins to clean blood and brain matter off of the pickup truck he borrowed from his father, John Knysz. During the testimony, the courtroom was quiet. Several police officers, including Mason 
County Sheriff Kim Cole and Ludington Police Chief Mark Barnett, were present. Members of Eric’s family, including his father, were also in the courtroom. Eric’s mom got in the truck with the two of them, Sarah said, and Eric started to drive. 

“We left his mom’s house and she asked what was going on,” Sarah said. “He said he needed her to drive the truck back and that he was going to get a car, and that he just killed a state trooper.”

“She acted shock and asked if he was serious and I started crying,” Sarah said about Tammi Spofford’s reaction. “He started telling her that he just got done wiping off the officer’s brains from the truck. She just complained about his driving and kept telling him he needed to slow down. I don’t remember much else of the conversation. Then we went to Walhalla and parked away from Timothy’s house and he walked up there.”

Prosecutor Paul Spaniola looks up information.

Prosecutor Paul Spaniola looks up information.

Sarah Knysz was referring to the home of Timothy Schultz, at 5915 E. Hansen Road in Branch Township. Earlier in the day, the couple apparently had test drove a Pontiac Grand Prix that Schultz had for sale. This time, Eric allegedly took the car. Sarah did not say how Eric gained access to the car. She did say, though, that she knew Eric intended to steal the car. While he was getting the car, Sarah said Eric’s mom was on the phone with her boyfriend. “I heard her telling him that she didn’t know why the cops were looking for Eric. She was just with us to drive the truck back after he bought the car.”

Spofford, Eric’s mother, has been quoted in the media stating that she did not know what Eric had done. MCP has been informed that it is very likely that the prosecutor’s office will be charging her very soon for her involvement in the crime.

Once the couple had put the weapons and other supplies from the truck into the car, they said goodbye to Eric’s mother. “He told her that he loved her and we drove away.” 

Sarah said she didn’t recall too much about the conversation following that. He had told her that she needed to get rid of her cell phone and that he would get her a new one. Sarah admitted that she erased the data off the cell phone, removed its battery and destroyed its sim card. She also took a memory card out of it and placed it in her bra.

The couple then stopped at a store where Eric went in and bought cigarettes and pop. They then drove back towards home, stopping at a friend’s house just outside of Dublin. When asked by Judge Richard Cooper why they stopped at the friends house, she replied, “he wanted
to try to buy a bag of weed.”

Then they stopped at the Dublin Store gas station. “I went inside the store and he was outside getting gas and after he came in. I saw a state cop looking at the car and my husband ran out the back. I heard loud noises. The (person at the) register said there were more
gunshots. I went out the front door and I saw my husband laying on the ground. I had guns pointed at me and I was told to get on the ground.”
At that point, Eric had been shot in the leg by the police. Both were then arrested. He was taken to Munson Medical Center in Traverse City and she was apparently taken to West Shore Hospital in Manistee, before taken to the Mason County Jail.

Sarah Knysz did not say why her husband shot Trooper Paul Butterfield. She showed very little emotion while giving her statement. When asked by Judge Cooper why she didn’t run away when she had the chance, which was multiple times, according to her testimony, she said she was afraid that he would kill her. She said that Eric had threatened to kill her other times prior to this incident. They had been together as a couple for two or three years, she couldn’t recall exactly.

Eric Knysz faces charges of murder of a police officer, felony firearms, carrying a concealed weapon, auto theft and being a second time offender. He has also been charged in Manistee County with receiving and concealing a stolen firearm, carrying a concealed weapon and assault with a dangerous weapon. His Mason County trial is scheduled to begin on Feb. 18, 2014.

Sheriff Kim Cole said he was pleased with the outcome of today’s hearing. “We have a lot more work to do,” he told MCP. “But, this is a good start.”

Sarah Knysz is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 17 at 3:15 p.m.

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