Charges filed in trooper death

Arraignment: Mason County Prosecutor Paul Spaniola fielded questions from reporters after Sarah Knysz’s arraignment in Mason County’s 79th District Court on Wednesday. (Courtesy photo)
Arraignment: Mason County Prosecutor Paul Spaniola fielded questions from reporters after Sarah Knysz’s arraignment in Mason County’s 79th District Court on Wednesday. (Courtesy photo)

By Eric Sagonowski

Pioneer News Network

MASON COUNTY — Charges have been authorized against the alleged shooter of Michigan State Police trooper Paul Butterfield.

Eric John Knysz, 19, of Luther, faces life in prison if convicted in the Monday murder of Butterfield in Mason County's Sherman Township. Butterfield conducted a traffic stop on a truck occupied by Knysz and his wife, 20-year-old Sarah Knysz, at 6:20 p.m. on Monday on Custer Road near Townline Road.

Three minutes later, a passing motorist called 911 to report finding Butterfield on the ground with a gunshot wound to the head. Butterfield was airlifted to Munson Medical Center, where he died during emergency surgery.

On Wednesday, Sarah Knysz was arraigned in Mason County's 79th District Court on charges of accessory after the fact of a murder and unlawful driving away of an automobile. She faces five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine for each count.

In addition to homicide of a peace officer, Eric Knysz faces felony firearm, carrying a concealed weapon and unlawful driving away of an automobile charges. He has also been given a notice of habitual offender, which elevates the maximum penalties to one and a half times the maximum otherwise set forth by statute.

"All of the indications that we have are that (Sarah) was not the shooter," said Mason County Prosecutor Paul Spaniola.

After the shooting, Spaniola reported, the couple allegedly stole a vehicle in Mason County. A "be on the lookout" was issued for the stolen car, and officers caught up to Eric and Sarah Knysz at the Dublin General Store in Dublin.

"The indications were that after the shooting occurred, that a vehicle was allegedly stolen here in Mason County and that is the vehicle that was apprehended in Manistee County," Spaniola said.

Before being into taken into custody, a brief gunfire exchange occurred at the store and Eric Knysz sustained a bullet wound. As of Wednesday, he was receiving treatment at Munson Medical Center under the monitoring of MSP troopers. After he is released, he will be sent to Mason County for arraignment.

Depending on when he is released, Eric Knysz's arraignment could come as soon as today.

"I would say it is possible, but I don't know what the medical situation is," Spaniola said.

The prosecutor would not comment about the murder weapon, the reason for the traffic stop or a possible motive in the case.

"That is one of the most curious questions in this case," he said. "Often times, homicides have no good reason. There is no good reason for any homicide, especially this one."

Spaniola didn't know of any warrants against Eric Knysz and Knysz did not have a prior criminal record in Mason County. There was no indication that Eric Knysz was going to be arrested during the traffic stop, Spaniola said, and Butterfield did not fire his weapon.

"From the 9-1-1 call, it appears to be simply a routine traffic stop," he said.

Both Eric and Sarah could face additional charges in Manistee County based on a review of the case by Manistee County Prosecutor Ford Stone.

"I met with the Mason County Prosecutor this morning and the investigators from both district six and district seven of the (Michigan) State Police," Stone said. "They are expecting to get Prosecutor Spaniola a written report around Friday at the earliest.

"But, I think that in reviewing the case with the investigators, it was going to be a few more days until I see anything on paper," he continued. "I'm definitely going to do that before I decide what, if any, charges are going to be appropriate here in Manistee County."

The investigation is ongoing by the MSP Hart and Cadillac posts, MSP detectives and crime labs from the sixth and seventh districts, Mason County Sheriff's Office, Lake County Sheriff's Office, Manistee County Sheriff's Office.

More charges in Mason County could be forthcoming if evidence supports them.

"I am still awaiting the receipt of virtually all of the police reports in this case," Spaniola said.

Sarah Knysz remains lodged at the Mason County Jail on a $250,000 cash/surety bond.