Schenectady

Prosecutors ask for nine years in arson perjury case

Defendant lied about another man's involvement in fire
PHOTOGRAPHER:

A man who admitted to lying in the Hulett Street fatal arson probe should receive nine years in prison, federal prosecutors argue in new court filings.

Richard Ramsey, who is to be sentenced next month, offered a “troubling number of accounts” of the fire and admitted that each of the versions came from him, not investigators or by way of coercion, prosecutors wrote.

Ramsey’s defense is arguing for a term under the maximum, saying Ramsey fully admitted his conduct harmed the investigation and delayed justice. 

Ramsey, 48, pleaded guilty in February in federal court to two counts of perjury. He admitted to telling the grand jury two versions about agreeing to allow a man to use his car during the morning of the May 2, 2013 Schenectady fire and then telling the grand jury later that both versions were false.

He is to be sentenced June 13 and faces up to 10 years in prison.

The arson fire claimed the lives of a father and three of his children. It also maimed then-5-year-old Safyre Terry. No one is charged with setting the blaze, more than four years later.

Ramsey’s perjury related to a false account that involved the man once charged with setting the fire, Robert A. Butler. 

Butler, then 27, spent nine months in jail before prosecutors dropped the charges against him when two other witnesses, Jennica Duell and Bryan Fish, recanted and another suspect, Edward Leon, emerged. 

Butler has since filed a federal civil rights wrongful arrest lawsuit against the law enforcement agencies involved.

Ramsey offered two versions to the grand jury of providing Butler a car the day before the fire, first by allowing Butler to pick up the car and the other dropping the car off at a Saratoga Springs address for Butler. Ramsey recanted both accounts in May 2016.

Federal prosecutors highlighted Ramsey’s differing testimony in a pre-sentencing filing. When asked by the grand jury to explain why he lied, prosecutors wrote, Ramsey responded simply that he didn’t know.

“Whatever his motivations, the defendant’s lies thwarted, delayed, and hindered a federal criminal investigation, assistant U.S. Attorney Wayne Myers wrote.

A nine-year sentence would send a message in the highly publicized case that perjury won’t be tolerated, Myers wrote.

Ramsey’s defense attorney, Lee Kindlon, did not ask for a specific term, but sought something less than the maximum.

Kindlon wrote that Ramsey gave each of his accounts seemingly to please whoever was listening. But none of the specific details turned out to be true, Kindlon acknowledged.

Ramsey acted “as an echo chamber” and felt an “outsized sense of importance” as investigators returned to him for more, Kindlon wrote.

“Caught up in a situation much larger than himself, he was crushed by the weight of expectation and the magnitude of his own mistakes,” Kindlon wrote. “Those sins must be answered for but Ramsey asks the court for consideration as it does so.”

Ramsey is scheduled for sentencing the same morning as his former co-defendant Fish is set for trial. Fish faces three counts of perjury related to the investigation.

Leon has been convicted of lying to the grand jury, although it did not involve Butler, and is serving 10 years in prison. Duell pleaded guilty to lying about Butlerand is serving 11 years.

In all, the fire claimed the lives of David Terry and his children Layah, 3; Michael, 2; and Donavan Duell, 11 months.

Safyre, who became the focus of a worldwide December 2015 Christmas card project, has been in the care of her aunt, Liz Dolder — David Terry’s sister — since returning home from the hospital.

Categories: -News-, Schenectady County

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