We now know why the case of a 27-year-old Saratoga Springs man accused of starting a fire that killed a man and three young children will be handled in federal court.
Schenectady County District Attorney Robert M. Carney said, "Shortly after the arrest of Robert Butler on charges of Arson in the First Degree, I asked the United States Attorney to consider the case for federal prosecution. I did so for several reasons. Federal jurisdiction is always a possibility with significant arson cases and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was already investigating this case along with the Schenectady Police and Fire Departments. Second, there are significant procedural differences between the state and federal systems regarding the type of evidence which must be presented to a Grand Jury that I believed favored consideration of federal prosecution in this case given the ongoing nature of this investigation by law enforcement and the necessity of moving forward expeditiously. Finally, there are sentencing enhancements possible in the federal system that would more appropriately address the harm caused by this criminal act, beyond the maximum sentence of 25-life Mr. Butler would face if he were to be convicted of murder in the second degree and arson in the first degree in state court. "
In fact, Butler could now face the death penalty.
There is federal jurisdiction over the arson because the building at 438 Hulett Street was a rental property not occupied by the owner and the U.S. Supreme Court has determined that such rental of real estate is an activity that affects interstate commerce.
Butler was charged in a federal complaint with setting the May 2, 2013, blaze that killed 33-year-old David Terry, 3-year-old Layah Terry, 2-year-old Michael Terry, and 11-month-old Donavan Duell. Another child was badly burned. He was remanded to custody until a detention hearing on Monday, June 10, 2013, at 1:30 p.m. Butler has pleaded not guilty to the state arson charge.
Carney says he can't discuss the evidence or the motive.
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