LUDINGTON (WWJ/AP) – A trio of sobbing witnesses took the stand Wednesday at the trial of a man charged with killing a Michigan state trooper, describing how they found the victim face-down in the road with a gunshot wound to the head.
Paul Butterfield II was alive and aware of their presence as they tried to comfort him and stem the bleeding, the three witnesses said in Mason County Circuit Court.
They were among the first witnesses in the trial of 20-year-old Eric Knysz, who’s charged with murder of a peace officer and other felony counts.
“He didn’t answer or talk to me,” said Connie Helton, who was the first to arrive on the scene, a few minutes after Butterfield was shot Sept. 9. “But he did raise up his head, pat his chest. … He was patting his chest continuously. I knelt by him, told him to just hold on.”
Butterfield, 43, was shot during a traffic stop around 6:20 p.m. in Mason County’s Sherman Township, about 80 miles north of Grand Rapids. He died later that night after being airlifted by helicopter to Munson Medical Center in Traverse City.
Charles Comstock, who wept almost continuously as he testified, said he was upset by his inability to help Butterfield.
While trying to hold gauze to the wound above Butterfield’s eye, Comstock tried the trooper’s collar microphone, then his radio, while others on the scene called 911.
Before testimony got underway Wednesday, both sides presented opening statements. Defense lawyer David Glancy asked jurors to remember that prosecutor Paul Spaniola’s opening statement was his theory of what happened and that his client was innocent until proven guilty.
Spaniola told jurors that Knysz, 20, shot Butterfield because the defendant was transporting guns he had stolen from his father and feared being arrested. Knysz’s wife Sarah, who was several months pregnant at the time, earlier testified that Butterfield asked them how they were doing when she heard a shot.
“He walked up to the window, started to ask like ‘How’s it going?’ and then I heard the gunshot,” she said, adding that the gun went off before Butterfield could even finish his sentence.
Sarah Knysz, 21, testified that after the shooting, the couple drove to her mother-in-law’s house where Eric Knysz cleaned Butterfield’s blood and tissue off the truck with napkins.
After picking up Eric Knysz’s mother, Tammi Lynne Spofford, the three then drove to nearby Walhalla where the young couple had earlier looked at a car for sale. At that time, Eric Knysz allegedly stole a vehicle. Sarah Knysz testified that Spofford took the truck back to her home, while she and her husband took off in the stolen vehicle.
The couple then drove to the a convenience store in Manistee County’s Wellston where police finally caught up with them around 8:25 p.m.
“I went inside the store, he was outside getting gas. After he came in, I saw a state cop looking at the car and my husband ran out the back. I waited in the store and then I heard loud noises and when it registered that it was more gunshots, I went out the front door and I saw my husband laying on the ground. And then I had guns pointed at me and I was told to get on the ground,” she said.
Eric Knysz was shot in the leg. Both were then taken into police custody.
When asked why she didn’t act after her husband shot Butterfield, Sarah Knysz said she was afraid, adding that her husband has threatened to kill her before.
“The fear and the shock and I was almost seven months pregnant and I didn’t know where we were. I know I can’t run faster than the car and I know I definitely can’t run faster than a bullet,” she said.
Sarah Knysz was sentenced in December to two to five years in prison after pleading guilty to charges of being an accessory after the fact and auto theft. Spofford, 50, is awaiting trial on similar charges for her role in the crime.
In addition to murder of a police officer, Eric Knysz is charged with felony firearm, concealed weapons violation, unlawfully driving away an auto, and being a habitual offender.
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