Post commander: ‘There’s still a big hole here at the post’

February 26, 2014
1st Lt. Leavitt, left, along with  MSP Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue and Mason County Sheriff Kim Cole.

1st Lt. Leavitt, left, along with MSP Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue and Mason County Sheriff Kim Cole.

By Rob Alway. Editor-in-Chief.

Eric John Knysz has been found guilty of murdering Michigan State Police Trooper Paul Butterfield. It is likely, that when sentenced in April, the 20-year-old will face life in prison. While justice will be served, it doesn’t take away the fact that a 43-year-old police officer, and military veteran, was killed in cold blood on the side of a country road.

“This has been a sad situation for everyone all around,” Trooper Butterfield’s commanding officer, 1st Lt. Kevin Leavitt of the MSP Hart Post said this morning. “A decision that took less than minutes to make has shattered these lives for decades to come.

“My heart breaks when I talk with Paul’s dad and Paul’s fiance, Jennifer. Those are dreams and memories that are theirs and some of their dreams will never happen now and there’s nothing we can do about that. There are no winners in this. We can’t change it. We can’t bring Paul back.”

Leavitt said Paul Butterfield’s memory exists in the minds of the troopers and staff of the Hart Post everyday.

“There’s still a big hole here at the post. We have pictures of Paul here and always reminders. We talk about Paul everyday. Somebody talks about him. We laugh at some of the things he did and said. He always had a smile on his face, he was a very happy person. We have good memories of Paul. Everybody here still has that hold in their heart.”

Leavitt praised the efforts of Mason County Paul Spaniola and his staff and also the efforts of detectives and other law enforcement officials, particularly MSP Det. Sgt. Scott Rios and Det. Sgt. Dave Johnson.

“All the detectives there on the scene worked tirelessly. They kept at it. One of the worst criminals you can have on the street is someone who is not afraid to shoot a police officer. Our goal was to take that person off the street as soon as possible.”

Leavitt praised the jury as well.

“I’m grateful that the jury saw the facts of the case,” Leavitt said. “I’m also grateful for the community and the support it has shown though this.”

Retired Trooper Dale Goodrich was Butterfield’s partner. They served together out of the Pere Marquette Township substation. They were also friends and neighbors; their Grant Township, Mason County, homes only three miles apart.

Goodrich sat through the entire trial. He and Leavitt typically would sit near Jennifer Sielski, Butterfield’s fiance.

“This is just another step in the process,” he said Tuesday night after the jury read the verdict. “I don’t have any feelings toward having closure. This doesn’t bring Paul back, but it does mean justice is being served. I have had a lot more emotions throughout this trial that I wouldn’t have expected. It was tough having to relive it.”

Mason County Sheriff Kim Cole said he was pleased with the guilty verdict. Cole sat with his friend, Paul Butterfield, as the trooper lay dying in the back of an ambulance, holding his hand, praying.

“I’m sad the whole thing happened in the first place and wish we could take it all back,” Cole said. “But in light of the tragedy I’m pleased with the jury’s verdict and the prosecutor’s case he put forth.

“I’m so proud of the work of our deputies, MSP troopers and the deputies and other law enforcement officers from Manistee, Lake and Oceana counties.”

Leavitt said he is grateful to Cole for being with Butterfield in the ambulance.

“I couldn’t be on the scene because I was tending to Paul’s family. Kim Cole is a dear friend of mine, I have known him for 26 years and I am proud that Kim was there for Paul, praying with him in those crucial moments.”

Eric John Knysz will be sentenced by 51st Circuit Court Judge Richard Cooper on Tuesday, April 8 at 4 p.m. at the Mason County Courthouse. He will likely serve a life prison sentence.


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