LUDINGTON (WWJ/AP) – A 20-year-old man convicted of first-degree murder for fatally shooting a Michigan state trooper during a traffic stop was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Eric Knysz received the mandatory penalty under Michigan law from Mason County Circuit Judge Richard I. Cooper in Ludington. A jury found Knysz guilty in the Sept. 9, 2013, slaying of 43-year-old trooper Paul Butterfield II.
Before getting the sentence, Knysz apologized to Butterfield’s family, saying his action was “heinous.”
“I’d like to greatly apologize to them,” he said, with tears in his eyes. “Tell them that I was – please hand them my sincere apologies. If I could (do) anything to change that, I would. If I could have him shoot me instead, I would.”
Butterfield’s fiancee, Jennifer Sielski, told the judge that she continues to suffer from his death.
“Every day, I am overcome with a feeling of panic that rushes through my body,” Sielski said. “Today, my wedding dress hangs next to Paul’s state trooper uniform, neither one to be ever worn again.”
Before the sentencing, the judge said it was “of the utmost pain that our people who are out there to protect us are victimized for a reason that is very, very selfish.” He called Knysz an “individual who is out to look out for himself, and nothing is going to get in his way.”
Butterfield, 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.
Prosecutors said Knysz shot Butterfield because he 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, 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 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.
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 a May trial on similar charges for her role in the crime.
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