Murder trial of Trooper Butterfield begins Tuesday

February 17, 2014
Trooper Paul Butterfield

Trooper Paul Butterfield

LUDINGTON — The trial of the man accused of murdering of a Michigan State Police trooper begins Tuesday at the Mason County Courthouse. Irons resident Eric Knysz will stand trial in 51st Circuit Court for the Sept. 9, 2013 murder of Trooper Paul Butterfield. In addition to murder of a police officer, Knysz is charged with felony firearms, carrying a concealed weapon, auto theft and being a second time offender.

Jury selection will begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday and is expected to last all of the day and possibly Wednesday as well. The trial is scheduled for nine days.
Trooper Butterfield was fatally shot in the head on Custer Road, just north of Townline Road in Free Soil Township on Sept. 9, 2013 after he pulled over a pickup truck allegedly driven by 19-year-old Eric Knysz.

Eric Knysz’s only passenger in that vehicle was his 20-year-old pregnant wife, Sarah. Later, the two, with the alleged help of Eric’s mother, Tammi Spofford, stole a vehicle from a Branch Township residence. Eric and Sarah were eventually caught later that night at the Dublin General Store in northeastern Manistee County where Eric was shot in the leg.

In November, Sarah pleaded guilty to accessory to murder of a police officer and to unlawfully driving away a vehicle. She has been sentenced to 2 to 5 years in prison. Spofford faces the same charges and is scheduled for trial in May.

Eric Knysz

Eric Knysz

As part of the condition of her plea agreement with the Mason County Prosecutor’s Office, Sarah will be testifying against Eric. She is likely going to be a key witness for the prosecution.
During a final conference, when she accepted the plea agreement, she told the court about the events that took place on that warm early September day. She desribed how Eric had taken guns from his father, John Knysz, and how Eric and she had driven to Ludington in John’s truck with the intent to sell guns.

On their way back, they were pulled over, less than 20 minutes into Butterfield’s shift and only a few miles from his northern Mason County home.

Sarah Knysz

Sarah Knysz

Sarah Knysz said Trooper Butterfield approached the vehicle, saying hello. At that time, she said Eric shot Butterfield in the head, not even giving the veteran police officer a chance to finish his sentence.

“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. 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.”

Butterfield's fiance, Jennifer Sielski and 1st Lt. Kevin Leavitt, Hart post commander.

Butterfield’s fiance, Jennifer Sielski and 1st Lt. Kevin Leavitt, Hart post commander.

Prosecutor Paul Spaniola.

Prosecutor Paul Spaniola.

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 has been quoted in the media stating that she did not know what Eric had done.

Once the couple had put the weapons and other supplies from the truck into the car, they said goodbye to Spofford. “He told her that he loved her and we drove away,” Sarah said in court.
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.

Tammi Spofford

Tammi Spofford

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.

Judge Richard Cooper

Judge Richard Cooper

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 has also been charged in Manistee County with receiving and concealing a stolen firearm, carrying a concealed weapon and assault with a dangerous weapon.

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