Prosecutors mull death penalty in Schenectady arson that killed four
ALBANY The federal case against the man accused of setting the May fire that killed a father and his three children and seriously injured another child is on hold until January, as prosecutors continue to weigh wether to seek the death penalty.
Attorneys for defendant Robert A. Butler and for the prosecution filed paperwork last week extending the deadline for a decision in the case until Jan. 10.
In the filing signed by both sides, they indicate that the case against Butler involves “unusual and complex facts” that must be considered.
No decision has been made by the U.S. Department of Justice on whether to seek the death penalty against Butler, the filing notes. That determination is ultimately made by the U.S. attorney general.
The additional time, the filing notes, is needed for further pre-indictment fact-finding and to give “a reasonable pre-indictment opportunity for the defense to present any facts, including any mitigating factors,” to the attorney general for consideration on whether to seek the death penalty.
Butler, 27, of Saratoga Springs, was formally charged federally in June with one count of arson causing death. It’s a charge that carries the possibility of the death penalty or life in prison without parole upon conviction.
Killed in the May 2 fire at 438 Hulett St. were David Terry, 32, and his children Layah Terry, 3, Michael Terry, 2, and Donavan Duell, 11 months.
The only child to survive was 5-year-old Safyre Terry, a girl described as her father’s princess. Family members have said Safyre has made steady progress in her recovery.
Butler is accused of setting fire to the stairwell leading to the second-floor apartment as part of an ongoing argument with David Terry that began days earlier, when Terry threw him out of the house for hitting the mother of the children, Jennica Duell.
Defending Butler are assistant federal public defender Timothy Austin and Rochester-based attorney William T. Easton.
Easton was added to the case in June because of his extensive experience in defending death penalty cases. He previously worked in the state Capital Defender Office for more than a decade.