Many tears shed during first day of testimony, but not by defendant

February 19, 2014
Mason County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Steve Hansen holds up MSP Trooper Paul Butterfield's garrison hat.

Mason County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Steve Hansen holds up MSP Trooper Paul Butterfield’s garrison hat.

Story by Lisa Enos. MCP Correspondent. 

Photos by Rob Alway. Editor-in-Chief. 

Eric Knysz

Eric Knysz

LUDINGTON — Eric Knysz, 20, of Irons — the man accused of killing Michigan State Police Trooper Paul Butterfield on Sept. 9, 2013 —  sat quietly in the courtroom Wednesday and showed little sign of emotion during the gripping testimony given by those who were first to arrive on the scene of the crime.

Wednesday was the first day of testimony in the 51st Circuit Court trial.

Connie Helton told the jury she was on her way home from work heading north on Custer Road just south of Townline Road when she came upon a gruesome scene. She fought back tears as she recounted the moments she spent by Butterfield’s side, praying as he lay bleeding on the paved road, suffering from a massive head injury.

She was able to get a signal and call 911. The recording of that call was played for the 13-person jury, her voice frantic and desperate. Just two minutes prior, Trooper Butterfield had radioed Mason-Oceana 911 (often referred to as Dispatch) with some info on a traffic stop. He recited his trooper number and read the license plate number of a red pickup truck to Joshua McGahan, the 911 operator on duty at the time.

Chuck Comstock

Chuck Comstock

Tears fell as the sound of Butterfield’s voice filled the courtroom, and friends, family and colleagues of the slain officer heard for the first time what may have been his last words:  “6231 (Butterfield’s call number) traffic stop. Custer and Townline with Charles Nora Boyd zero eight four two” (license plate number CNB0842).

Constance Helton

Constance Helton

“We don’t know why he made the stop. We don’t know if there was a loud muffler on the vehicle. Don’t know if it was speeding. We don’t know if he recognized who was operating the vehicle,” Mason County Prosecutor Paul Spaniola told the jury in his opening statement.

The license plate number was later “run” at dispatch and the truck was found to be registered to John P. Knysz of Irons, the defendant’s father. Lake County deputies were dispatched to John Knysz’s home.

Another passerby in a pickup with Indiana plates stopped to ask Connie Helton if she had a cell phone signal and she indicated she did.

Trooper Daniel Thomas shows a photo of the crime scene.

Trooper Daniel Thomas shows a photo of the crime scene.

About the same time Shannon Comstock, who lived nearby, arrived on the scene. She was on her way to a store in Free Soil after picking her daughter up from volleyball practice in Scottville when she saw Connie Helton waving her arms and pointing to a trooper laying face down on the pavement.

Noticing the blood, Shannon Comstock moved her car so that the scene was out of her children’s view. As she was doing so she called 911 and was told they already knew there was an officer down. She then called her husband, Charles (Chuck) Comstock, a former volunteer fireman who was in the vicinity working on his deer blind and told him there was an officer down and that he needed to come right away.

Shannon Comstock

Shannon Comstock

Shannon then went to assist Connie who was comforting Butterfield who was still conscious at the time, but unable to speak.

“You could see tissue, lots of blood,” Shannon said, fighting back tears. “He was breathing very heavily. He was patting his chest. His legs were trembling. We could tell it was a massive head wound, looked to have been shot. I went in to his police car to look for medical equipment.”

What Shannon found was a first aid kit which contained a small amount of gauze.

“As soon as I grabbed it (the kit) my husband showed up. I gave him gloves. My husband knelt down in front of him, he tried to put pressure on the wound. The wound was so large and so much matter had come out, it was hard to find a place to put pressure. He had just a small amount of gauze. We did what (we) could. We comforted him, talked to him. When you talked to him his breathing slowed.”

Tim Schultz

Tim Schultz

Chuck Comstock testified that he had training in first aid as a firefighter and that by his assessment Butterfield appeared to be in “very bad shape.”

“It didn’t take long to figure out that he had suffered some kind of gun shot,” said Chuck Comstock, his voice wavering with emotion. “Shannon had found some gloves and I put them on and tried to control the bleeding, tried to pull him back together to try to talk to him and pull him back together and tell him he wasn’t alone. His breathing started to ease a bit. I tried to talk to him and there wasn’t much I could do.

“There was a lot of blood and a lot of (pause) tissue…I tried to pull him back together and tried to control the bleeding. That’s what you do. What else do you do? I couldn’t hear any sirens at that time. I don’t know how long it was ’til I pulled the microphone off his chest and tried to call dispatch. I hit the button on his radio and tried to indicate that there was an officer down.”

Chuck Comstock communicated the situation over the radio.

“Someone told me they called him Butters. I kept rubbing his back and tried to befriend this man I’d never met, trying to help. It just didn’t seem like enough,” Comstock said.

Mason County Sheriff’s Deputy Brandon Romero, just four months out of graduating from West Shore Community College’s law enforcement academy, was the first police officer on the scene. At that point nobody knew where the shooter had gone and Romero set about securing the scene. Fountain Fire Department personnel arrived on scene as well as Sgt. Steve Hansen of the Mason County Sheriff’s Office.

Butterfield’s bullet-proof vest was cut from his body. His belt containing his secured hand gun was removed from his waist. All witnesses testified that Butterfield’s gun was secured in a hooded holster at his waist.

By the time Mason County Sheriff Kim Cole arrived, Butterfield had been transported on a gurney and into an ambulance at the scene while they waited for Aeromed helicopter ambulance to arrive. Cole testified that he climbed into the back of the ambulance with Butterfield and began talking to him, telling him to keep fighting.

Sheriff Kim Cole

Sheriff Kim Cole

Cole said he didn’t recognize Butterfield, whose face was obscured by bandages. Cole saw that Butterfield’s shirt was hanging off the side of the gurney, the badge still on the shirt. “I wasn’t going to let that badge hit the ground,” Cole said. So he took it and Butterfield’s backup weapon for safe keeping and continued to comfort him as they waited for the helicopter.

Butterfield was flown to Munson Medical Center in Traverse City where he was pronounced dead hours later.

Eric Knysz who is alleged to have pulled the trigger in the shooting that proved fatal for Trooper Butterfield is charged with first degree murder. The defense has not yet had a chance to call any witnesses. It is unclear whether Knysz himself will take the stand and there has been little cross examination of the prosecution’s witnesses by court appointed defense attorney David Glancy. The defendant’s line of defense is unclear at this time.

911 dispatcher Josh McGahn testifies.

911 dispatcher Josh McGahn testifies.

Knysz is also on trial for carrying a concealed pistol and unlawfully driving away an automobile.

The jury heard from Branch Township Tim Schultz, the man whose vehicle Knysz was driving when law enforcement officers caught up with him within hours of the shooting. Knysz tried to evade them while fueling up the stolen car at Dublin Store in Manistee County, but was shot in the knee and apprehended after exchanging gunfire with the officers. The trial continues Thursday.

 

For more frequent updates during the trial, go to www.facebook.com/MasonCountyPress and www.twitter.com/MasonCoPress #TrooperMurderTrial.

 

Coverage of the MSP Trooper Paul Butterfield murder trial is partially sponsored by FloraCraft of Ludington, www.floracraft.com and Dollars & Sense – Tax & Accounting Services LLC, 101 S. James St., Ludington. 231-845-7292. We appreciate their contribution to helping us provide coverage to you.

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