WNYT.com

Schenectady County DA: Butler case transferred to federal court

Posted at: 06/04/2013 5:32 PM
Updated at: 06/04/2013 8:51 PM
By: Abigail Bleck

SCHENECTADY -- Relatives of the father and three young children who died in a house fire on Hulett Street say moving Robert Butler's case to federal court is the first good news they've received in a month.

"He should never be free to do this to another family--those children, laying peacefully in their beds, how dare him," said Liz Dolder, the victim's sister, after Butler's appearance in Schenectady City Court on Tuesday.

Butler is accused of starting the fire May 2nd that killed 33 year old David Terry and his kids: three year old Layah, two year old Michael and 11 month old Donovan.  If indicted and convicted now, in federal court, the 27 year old could be sentenced to death.

"Obviously you are always concerned when you talk about capital punishment but there hasn't been a final determination...realistically even if indicted here he's looking at a life time in prison if he's convicted," explains Mark Juda, Butler's defense attorney.

According to the Schenectady County District Attorney, there are significant procedural distinctions that, in this case, favor federal prosecution.  They include the ability to indict on heresay, which Carney cannot, and witness immunity.  Federal magistrates also abide by different sentencing guidelines than New York State judges.

"Life and death are possibilities.  I'm not going to say that will happen in this case, that's up to the Justice Department," explains DA Robert Carney.

According to NewsChannel 13 sources, 27 year old Butler was romantically involved with the kids' mother, Jennica Duel.  She lived with the children in the Hulett Street apartment but her whereabouts the night of the fire are unclear.

"Their last moment must be horrific.  I can't even fathom what those children were going through, to get out of the blaze," said Mike Dolder, Terry's brother-in-law.

Another child, five year old Sa'fyre was injured in the fire.  She's still heavily sedated, at a burn unit in Westchester County.  Relatives say she's undergone five surgeries and is slowly recovering.