Wife of alleged trooper killer sentenced to 2-5 years

December 10, 2013
Paul Butterfield's father, Paul, hands Sarah Knysz a picture of his son.

Paul Butterfield’s father, Paul, hands Sarah Knysz a picture of his son.

By Rob Alway. Editor-in-Chief.

Butterfield's fiance, Jennifer Sielski speaks. With her is Lt. Kevin Leavitt

Butterfield’s fiance, Jennifer Sielski speaks. With her is Lt. Kevin Leavitt

LUDINGTON — Sarah Knysz sat in the Mason County Courtroom this afternoon and broke down into tears as Jennifer Sielski, the fiance of Trooper Paul Butterfield, talked about her wedding plans and the love of her life. Sielski, who also was in tears, talked about how she had found her soul mate and how she got home from work on the night of Sept. 9, 2013 and kissed her fiance goodbye. Later, she took the dog for a walk and snapped a picture on her cell phone and texted it to Butterfield with the words: “I love you.”

Trooper Paul K. Butterfield II never received that text. About the time it was sent, he was lying on the side of Custer Road, just a few miles from his and Sielski’s home, shot in the head following a routine traffic stop.

Butterfield’s commander, Lt. Kevin Leavitt, stood by Sielski’s side.

The 19-year-old man accused of shooting Trooper Butterfield is sitting in the Mason County Jail awaiting his trial in February. In the meantime, his pregnant 20-year-old wife is going to prison for the next 2 to 5 years.

“There is nothing that can bring Paul back into this world or to ease the pain of my devastating loss,” Sielski said during Sarah Knysz’s sentencing in 51st Circuit Court, asking that Judge Cooper hold Sarah Knysz responsible for the “heartless actions” of her and her husband.

“I still live in a daze. The grief is so overpowering,” Sielski said. “Everyday I am overcome with a feeling of panic as I struggle to accept what happened and that my partner in life is no longer on the earth.”

Sarah Knysz's family sits behind her.

Sarah Knysz’s family sits behind her.

Sielski said she went from planning a wedding to planning a funeral.

While Jennifer Sielski told the story about a man who dedicated his life to serving and protecting others, Sarah Knysz told the story about her spouse, a man she described as physically and verbally abusive. A man who controlled her every move.

Paul Butterfield was 43-years-old the night he was shot and killed. He and Jennifer were supposed to get married within the next year.

Sarah Knysz had dated Eric Knysz since she was 15 and he was 14. She grew up without a father in her life — when she was just a baby her father was sentenced to life in prison for murder. She told investigators that Eric was romantic when they first started dating but all that changed when they got married.

Her attorney, John Spillan, portrayed Sarah as a victim who lived in the woods near Irons, among Eric Knysz’s family. He said that everyone feared the scrawny Eric Knysz and no one would dare to stand up for him.

Sarah talked about how Eric would not allow her to see her friends and how he would show up to the restaurant where she worked and would take her tip money so he could go out with other women.

Paul L. Butterfield, Trooper Butterfield’s father, told Sarah that she made her choices. Before he spoke, he handed the defendant a photograph of his son.

Judge Cooper

Judge Cooper

“I want you to look at this picture while I speak,” he said. “On Sept. 9, 2013 your husband shot and killed our son, Paul, and your part in this needless act of violence will impact our lives forever… I believe your tears are not for our son but because you have been caught.

“You were involved in helping your husband escape. You willingly endangered your unborn child and yourself… You made a choice of marrying a career criminal. Your statement that you cannot outrun a bullet says that you chose to marry a violent man or you are extremely naive.

“The day my son was born was one of the happiest days of my life. I hope for the sake of your child that he or she is totally removed from your family and denied knowing the heinous crime the two of you participated in.”

 Judge Richard Cooper told the court that he recognizes the dangers that police put themselves into every day.

009_butterfiled_knysz_sentencing_ludington“In this case, the court finds it credible that the officer was simply doing a routine traffic stop,” Cooper said, adding that the court sympathized with Butterfield’s father and his fiance. Cooper said he acknowledges that Sarah Knysz was in an abusive and controlling relationship but that she had several opportunities to flee from Eric Knysz following the shooting.

In November, Sarah Knysz accepted a plea agreement with Prosecutor Paul Spaniola. Under the agreement, she pleaded guilty, as charged, to accessory to murder of a police officer, after the fact, and to unlawfully driving away a motor vehicle. The minimum sentence for accessory to murder after the fact is 5 years.

She accepted the plea unconditionally. As part of the agreement, she waives her constitutional right to not testify against her spouse.  Spaniola said he could have easily charged Sarah Knysz to homicide, aiding and abetting.

Sarah Knysz is in the ninth month of her pregnancy. She is expecting a son. Mason County Sheriff Kim Cole said that his office is taking extra precautions in the transport of the prisoner to a Michigan Dept. of Corrections facility.

“We will have a marked patrol car accompany the transport vehicle to the prison,” Cole said. “In addition, we have made arrangements with the Michigan State Police and will be in communication with troopers en-route. We have also communicated to hospitals along the route. The top priority is to assure the safe delivery of that child, who is innocent. Of course, we want the mother to be safe as well.”

Eric Knysz will go on trial in February. See related story.

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