Emotional testimony marks first day of Knysz trial
The courtroom was packed as the jury filed in for the first day of the trial against Eric Knysz, the man accused of shooting and killing State Police Trooper Paul Butterfield.
Opening statements were made, but the words that captivated the jury were that of the first three witnesses called: Connie Helton, Shannon Comstock and her husband, Charles.
Helton was the first to find Trooper Butterfield and the first to try to help.
She said she was driving home from her job at Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital, formerly known as Memorial Medical Center, where she works as a Pharmacy Technician. Helton testified that she was driving on Custer Road around 6:30 when she saw the State Police car, with its lights on, parked on the side of the road. She said she didn't see another car, but assumed the Trooper was doing paperwork.
As she drove past the car, she said she saw Trooper Butterfield face down on the ground near his car. She stopped to help, calling 911. Through tears, Helton described that she could see "a lot of blood" and that Butterfield was attempting to pick up his head.
She testified that she tried to help, to the best of her ability, along with Shannon and Charles Comstock.
Shannon Comstock was next on the stand. She testified that she was driving on Custer Road when she saw Helton waving her arms in the air, attempting to get her to stop.
When she did, she saw Trooper Butterfield on the ground. She proceeded to call 911 and after that, called her husband, a former volunteer fire fighter in Scottville, to help.
A very emotional Charles Comstock said Trooper Butterfield was "in very bad shape" when he arrived.
"It didn't take long to figure out he had suffered some kind of gunshot (wound)," Comstock said in court.
Comstock said he attempted to put pressure on the wound with gauze his wife had found in a first aid kit in Butterfield's patrol car. He said he attempted to talk to Butterfield, telling him he "wasn't alone," but there "wasn't much" he could do.
"I so desperately wanted to help," Comstock said through tears. "But it wasn't enough."
As Comstock left the courtroom, Butterfield's father, Paul Sr., thanked him for his help.
Deputy Brandon Romero of the Mason's County Sheriff's Office was next on the stand. He testified that when he arrived on the scene, he found three people giving aid to Trooper Butterfield. Deputy Romero said he helped secure the area as well as securing Trooper Butterfield's patrol belt in the backseat of Chief Deputy Steven Hanson's patrol car.
Hanson, who was a sergeant with the department at the time of the shooting, testified that he witnessed tire marks near the Trooper's body that appeared to be from a vehicle accelerating quickly.
At this time, the prosecution entered Butterfield's hat into evidence. The defense objected to this motion due to a discrepancy in the chain of evidence, but the judge overruled, allowing it to be used.
Hanson showed the hat to the jury, displaying a hole in the top of the hat where the gunshot allegedly ripped through the hat.
Butterfield's duty belt and photos of the duty belt and hat were also entered into evidence.
Mason County Sheriff Kim Cole was next to the stand. He testified that when he arrived on the scene, Butterfield was in an ambulance. Cole said he sat next to him, squeezing his leg.
"I said 'Paul, keep breathing, keep breathing, keep fighting,'" Cole testified.
The 911 dispatcher who was on the call with Trooper Butterfield when he called in that he was pulling over the truck that Eric Knysz was allegedly driving was called next to the stand.
He testified that he was the one who answered Butterfield's call that he was pulling over a red pickup truck. The call was confirmed by the dispatcher at 6:20 p.m.
The 911 calls from that evening were then played for the jury to hear.
A woman's voice can be heard saying, "I need an ambulance now....we have a State Police officer down."
Next on the stand was State Police Trooper Daniel Thomas, a crime scene investigator.
Thomas showed several photos of the scene that depict Butterfield's patrol car on the west side of Custer Road, with its patrol lights flashing. The photos show a pool of blood about 23 feet in front of the patrol car.
Sgt. Doug Roesler from the Michigan State Police showed his reconstruction of the scene, showing the distance between the front bumper of the patrol car and the pool of blood to be about 23 feet. He approximates the length of an extended cab truck, like the one the prosecution has alleged Knysz was driving that evening to be about 20 feet.
He also testified that there were tire tracks consistent with a vehicle accelerating quickly. He said they were "fresh," meaning they had been made relatively recently, but could not testify to the type of vehicle that created them.
The last person to testify was Timothy Schultz, the man whose car was allegedly stolen by Eric Knysz on the night of Trooper Butterfield's shooting.
Schultz testified that he had his Pontiac Grand Prix listed for sale on Facebook and had gotten several responses, including one from Eric Knysz. Knysz and his wife Sarah showed up to test drive the car around noon on Sep. 9. Schulz said the Knysz's arrived in a red Chevy pickup truck.
After test driving the car, a price was negotiated and Sarah and Eric said they would be back with the money later.
Schultz said shortly after 7 p.m. he witnessed Sarah and Eric walking west down the road then walked into Schultz's driveway. He walked up to the car, told Schultz he needed to "check something out" and then jumped in and drove away.
Schultz then said drove after him and followed him for a while before turning back. He then stopped at the Branch Township Fire Department, for a monthly meeting, where the other firefighters told him about the trooper being shot. He said he immediately called 911.