The first trial connected to the May 2013 Schenectady arson that killed a city father and three of his children is set to begin Monday, and cellphone records are expected to play a central role, according to court filings.
Standing trial in U.S. District Court in Albany will be 43-year-old Edward Leon. He is accused of twice lying to a federal grand jury investigating the blaze. No charges are pending against Leon or anyone else for setting the fire, which also badly injured a fourth child.
Federal filings indicate that Leon admitted to lying about both his whereabouts and authorship of text messages. He testified again before the grand jury later that his original statements were false.
Federal prosecutors are expected to introduce at trial both his initial testimony and his later testimony. They also contend they will prove, through testimony as well as records from Leon’s employer and cellphone companies, that his initial statements were false.
One expected witness, FBI Special Agent Eric Perry, is expected to present information concerning the whereabouts of a TracFone used to send threatening text messages to the man who died in the fire, David Terry, and the location of Leon’s personal cellphone.
Federal prosecutors are also expected to compare that information with Leon’s work delivery route, according to the prosecution filing.
Killed in the May 2, 2013, fire at 438 Hulett St., Schenectady, were Terry and his three children, Layah, 3, Michael, 2, and Donavan Duell, 11 months. The only child to survive was Sa’fyre Terry, who was 5 at the time. She suffered severe burns resulting in a long recovery that continues.
Jury selection is expected to begin Monday morning at U.S. District Court in Albany. The trial is expected to last three to four days.
Leon is represented by attorney David L. Gruenberg. In his own filing, he argued that prosecutors intended to introduce at trial “substantial evidence and testimony regarding the homicide by arson case against the defendant.”
He argued the value of that evidence would be far outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. The judge in the case is expected to make a ruling on a formal request by Gruenberg to exclude certain information.
Both the TracFone text messages and Leon’s whereabouts were important to the grand jury’s work, prosecutors contend.
Leon initially claimed he went directly to work in Amsterdam from his home in St. Johnsville the morning of the fire. He later admitted to going to Schenectady in between, and that he was in the area of Hulett Street within minutes of the fire breaking out.
The text messages themselves include repeated threats to Terry, according to documents filed previously.
Leon and Terry were connected through Brianne Frolke, who had once dated Leon. By late April, 2013, Frolke was dating Terry and they planned to marry.
Using the anonymous TracFone, prosecutors wrote previously, Leon texted Terry that those nuptials would never happen.
“You’re not going to make it to your wedding day,” Leon allegedly wrote in one text message. In another, Leon allegedly wrote, “die, Dave, die.”
A third message, allegedly from Leon to Terry, read, “You’re a dead man walking.”
Prosecutors contend Leon first denied using the phone, but later admitted to purchasing it at a drugstore April 25, 2013, and using it until April 29 of that year.
Leon was one of two people indicted in November 2014 for allegedly lying to the grand jury investigating the fire. Jennica Duell of Schenectady — the mother of the three children killed in the fire and the child injured — was also accused of giving contradictory statements to the panel.
She testified in vivid detail that she was with the person who set the fire when the crime was committed. She later testified that what she said in her initial testimony was not true.
Police arrested the man she accused of setting the blaze, Robert A. Butler, soon after the fire and charged him with setting it. Authorities dropped those charges nine months later and Butler was freed.