Closing arguments

February 25, 2014
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Prosecutor Paul Spaniola

LUDINGTON — “Every defendant is entitled to his day in court,” said Mason County Prosecutor Paul Spaniola at the onset of his closing arguments to the jury in the 51st Circuit Court case of the People vs. Eric Knysz, 20, of Irons, accused of first degree murder of peace officer, Michigan State Police Trooper Paul Butterfield who was pronounced dead at approximately 10 p.m. Sept. 9, 2013.

The burden of proof in a criminal case is on the prosecution. The prosecutor’s job is to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the accused is indeed guilty of the crimes. The crimes in this case being first degree murder of a peace officer,  possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, carrying a concealed weapon in a motor vehicle and unlawfully driving away an automobile.

Spaniola recapped the events of the fateful day back in September. He told the jury that Eric Knysz left the house that day with eight guns, five which he sold to Travis Gajewski (of Grant Township three long guns, two pistols) which left him with a .357 (the Colt Python murder weapon used to kill Butterfield). It had never been fired, according to the testimony and that it was one of his dad, John Knysz’s prized possessions. Knysz also had with him a .45 and another long gun.

“He sold five guns for $250,” stressed Spaniola and then (they) were on the way to get money from Eric’s boss.

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Defense attorney David Glancy

“Then the plan went bad,” he told the jury and described what Eric was likely thinking when Trooper Butterfield, in a marked car and in full uniform turned around on Custer Road and decided to pull over Eric, who was driving his dad’s 1988 Chevy pickup truck.

Eric’s license was suspended at the time. He had six more hours to go until that suspension would be downgraded to a restricted status.

“Sarah doesn’t drive,” Spaniola reminded the jury, from Sarah’s testimony Monday.

“As soon as Paul Butterfield turned around, Eric knew he was in trouble. He was in trouble because his license was suspended. Eric knew the vehicle would be searched because of his suspension.

“The .357 in his lap, the .45 and the M1 Carbine (guns) would be found. Sarah’s already doing things to her cell phone by 6:24, erasing the contents of the phone, hiding the data card in her bra, Paul’s still fighting for life on the ground and the cover up had begun. Eric drove as fast as the old truck could go and hightailed it to his mother’s in Irons. Along the way he discards the shell casings on the grounds of Camp Sauble, prison here in Mason County.

“No call history, web browser…they remove the battery so they can’t be tracked.  Sarah goes in the house to get Tammi (Eric’s mother) while Eric clears off the side of the truck. He cleans off the truck and throws the tissue in a burn barrel then he and his mom and Sarah go over to get the car from Tim Schultz (of Branch Township where they) park a distance away. Eric had taken the .357 murder weapon along with him, I argue, in case he needed it there.

“They go past their own house on 10 mile…but Lake County Deputies are there…they know they’ve been found out.

Eric Knysz listens to closing arguments.

Eric Knysz listens to closing arguments.

“They go to Mark and Deb Harris’s house. Eric is all hyper. Eric repeats to them he just killed a state cop. A short time there. Five minutes, maybe 10. The car needs gas. To the EZ Mart in Dublin they go. There, Eric pulls up to get gas. He still has the .357 in his pants. He goes to pump gas and Sarah goes into the store.

“Troopers Crowfoot and Arendt see the car there, try to confirm the plate. We have a young white male, a pregnant female with him. Sarah’s in the store, Eric comes in, when they see the state police outside, Eric goes out the back door. He carries the .357 and an encounter ensues in which Eric is shot in the leg by Trooper Arendt. The gun is in his hand, as it falls it spins out of his hands…they struggle on the ground, Eric and Crofoot. The gun is dragged away by Officer Smith and the gun is taken away into custody. The charge is murder.”

Spaniola continued: “What was Eric Knysz thinking? What was he thinking about between the time he saw a blue Michigan State Police car coming toward him on Custer Road and …Eric had just sold five stolen guns to Travis Gajewski. He didn’t know Travis. Did Eric think he was a cop, undercover? An undercover informant perhaps? A snitch?  (Didn’t know him from the man in the moon). According to Sarah’s testimony “Eric didn’t think he’d been doing anything wrong in his driving to warrant a traffic stop. We heard that the muffler was loud. Was he speeding or driving carelessly? We don’t know. Eric knew that he was suspended for another 6 hours. ‘Why am I being stopped. I haven’t done anything wrong. The car may be searched, maybe impounded, they may find the guns. I can’t go to jail, I can’t go to jail. Do I try to outrun him? Outrun the state police and maybe they’ll never find me?’ Well, what’s Eric driving? A 1988 beat up Chevy truck, what I would call a beater truck, he’s not going to outrun them in that.

“Hmm…maybe he just needs to eliminate the problem. As we look at the screen, it’s secluded, there’s some trees, no houses, light traffic, no witnesses besides Sarah. He had a gun in his lap. He could try to hide it,” said Spaniola, noting that if the car is going to be impounded the guns would eventually be found.

“Eric thought that the trooper would never see it coming…he had to eliminate the evidence,” Spaniola continued. “What Eric wasn’t considering is that his plate had been called in on the traffic stop and that the plate would be traced back to his father. He wasn’t considering that he had Trooper Butterfield’s DNA on the door.”

Spaniola then showed the transcript of the statement Knysz gave to Detective Sgt. Gary Green on a screen.

“‘I was going to pick up the car cuz I was going to have my wife just drive the truck home. And I seen the officer pull off to the side of the road. As soon as I went past him, he turned around. And he walked up to the truck and I was thinking (inaudible) and I shot him.’

“So matter of fact it was like walking to the corner store to buy a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread,” Spaniola said.

The prosecutor concluded by saying that Paul Butterfield helped solve his own murder. With his DNA on the truck and as he called in the license plate number. The recording of Paul Butterfield’s voice calling in the license plate number was played for the jury and again, the courtroom, full of friends and family of Butterfield was filled with tears.

In a criminal trial the defense attorney is entitled to a rebuttal of the prosecutor’s closing statement. Public defender David Glancy addressed the Jury.

“When I first addressed you I explained that the prosecutor has the burden of proof in the matter. The prosecutor must prove every element of the crime and he must do so beyond a reasonable doubt. First we’ll look at the unauthorized driving away of an automobile (by Tim Schultz of Branch Twp.). He testified that he was never given a name. Yet he (states) that it was Eric Knysz who is 19 years old. He said he knew that from the police or from the media. He testified that he (Eric Knysz) was wearing dark jeans and a button down shirt. So I don’t think the prosecutor can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Eric took the vehicle.”

Glancy then addressed the sale of guns to Travis Gajewski. “We have testimony that it was Mr. Knysz that sold him the guns. In exchange for his testimony he got six days in jail. He didn’t know his name, yet he testified that it was him who sold him the guns.”

Glancy also indicated the prosecution talked a lot about the phones but they never produced the phones to show that there was communication between the two.

“The prosecutor has to argue beyond a reasonable doubt, but you have to ask yourself if there was any other reason he may have admitted to committing these crimes. That’s when we have the letter he wrote to attorney Spillan, the letter (in which) he was trying to cover for her at that time as well when he (Spillan) was giving his testimony.”

Glancy also reminded the jury that the testimony of Sarah Knysz against her husband Eric was part of a plea agreement.

“The prosecutor wants you to believe that he (Eric Knysz) stopped at their house, walked inside and said that he shot a cop.

“Ms. Harris wanted you to believe that she had no reason to believe that he would stop at their home.

“That was never investigated any further as to whether the Harris’ were dealing pot or any other reason he would stop there.

“He admitted that he shot a cop, so Mr. Harris goes down the street, sees the cops, and does nothing.

“We then look at the blood on the truck. We have the indication that he called in the license plate. The only fingerprint on the murder weapon wasn’t found on the trigger, however, he would not tell you how many points of comparison there were. He said the method he performed has a zero error rate, He said that Sinke said that on (Eric and Sarah Knysz’) Pepsi can or Mountain Dew can he said there were 12 points of comparison. We do not have that information for the fingerprints that were found on the gun. As both fingerprint experts were willing to admit they knew that Israeli person had seven point of comparison in common with another individual.

“Not that it necessarily occurred in this matter but Sinke admitted that a bias might exist in a high profile case that they want to find a match. There was no DNA of Eric Knysz on the gun. There was no DNA of Eric on the shell casing, and the casing was found at least five and a half feet from the side of the road, a significant distance…” (for an item of that weight and size). Glancy also made note that the shell casing was found after the police had possession of the murder weapon and the ammo.

“As I already stated it was Tammi Spofford driving the vehicle. The napkin found in the burn barrel (on her property).”

Glancy also argued that law enforcement officials who testified gave conflicting testimony as to who placed Butterfield’s gun belt and garrison cap the vehicle, and that a chain of possession could not be established with those pieces of evidence.

“Finally we have testimony that there was video from the Dublin store…” (which was not presented as evidence. Why?)

Spaniola’s counter rebuttal:

“What the defense fails to say is that Sarah gave testimony he was driving…Eric’s dad gave testimony that Eric had his permission to drive the truck…the vehicle driven by Spofford needed to be concealed because it contained the DNA.

“The defense would have you believe that Eric and Sarah had nothing to do with the vehicle…or that they have nothing to do with the scene at the gas station in Dublin?

“The defense would also have you believe that the State Police lab was in cahoots and that they found fingerprints when fingerprints weren’t there,” said Spaniola.

“The truth is Eric Knysz fired on Trooper Butterfield and left him on the side of the road to die.”

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