Edward Leon first told a federal grand jury he never went to Schenectady the morning of May 2, 2013, a federal prosecutor said Monday.
Two months later, he told authorities that he actually went to Schenectady that morning and was standing outside 438 Hulett St. minutes before witnesses reported a devastating fire there that ultimately claimed four lives.
Federal prosecutors Monday opened their perjury case against the 43-year-old Leon, telling a federal court jury that they intended to prove Leon lied to a federal grand jury on two key points.
They contend Leon lied to the grand jury investigating the fire a second time when he said he didn’t know who authored threatening text messages sent in the days leading up to the fire.
Killed in the arson fire at 438 Hulett St. were David Terry and three of his 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.
No charges are pending against Leon or anyone else for setting the fire.
In court Monday, prosecutor Wayne Myers gave his opening statement to the jury. Leon’s defense attorney, David Gruenberg, declined to give an opening statement.
Myers told the jury that Leon initially told the grand jury he went from his home in St. Johnsville to a gas station in Palatine Bridge, then to work in Amsterdam the morning of the fire.
But, Myers said, Leon instead went to Schenectady after Palatine Bridge.
Leon later even went with authorities to the site of the Hulett Street fire and showed investigators where he said he stood, Myers said.
Myers did not elaborate on Leon’s alleged comments. A video of the exchange is expected to be played in court today.
Myers also told the jury that prosecutors intended to prove Leon authored the threatening text messages.
Leon and Terry were connected through Brianne Frolke, who had once dated Leon. By late April of 2013, Frolke was dating Terry and they planned to marry.
According to prosecutors, Leon used an anonymous TracFone to send a text to Terry telling him those nuptials would never happen.
In court Monday, prosecutors presented a text message from the TracFone to Frolke four days before the fire that only read “Hore” [sic] and added the phrase “Im [sic] the undertaker.”
Also Monday, prosecutors played a brief street surveillance video showing a van allegedly owned by Leon driving on Hamilton Street toward Hulett Street at 4:13 a.m. the day of the fire. A second video at the corner of Duane Avenue and Craig Street recorded a glimpse of a similar van heading away from Hulett Street minutes later.
Prosecutors indicated they could close their case as early as this afternoon. After Wednesday’s Veterans Day holiday, deliberations could take place Thursday.
On Monday afternoon, the jury first heard testimony about the fire and how investigators believe it began, and heard from Schenectady Fire Department Lt. Anthony Klouse about the rescue effort.
Investigators concluded the blaze began at the foot of the stairs leading to Terry’s upstairs apartment and was intentionally set with gasoline.
Terry’s sister, Liz Dolder, who attended Monday’s proceedings, had taken in Terry’s daughter Layah, but they often would take her to her father’s place to spend the night. The night of the fire was one of those nights.
After the fire, they supported young Sa’fyre Terry through her long hospitalization and have since taken her in.
Also in the courtroom were relatives of Leon, who has remained in custody since his November 2014 arrest.
Gruenberg, Leon’s attorney, asked few questions of Monday’s witnesses. Prosecutors called the court stenographers who recorded Leon’s grand jury testimony and the testimony of others, to authenticate transcripts.
Leon is one of two people accused of lying to the grand jury. The other is Jennica Duell of Schenectady — the mother of the three children killed in the fire and the child injured.
She testified in vivid detail that she was with the person who set the fire, whom she identified as Robert A. Butler. She later recanted that testimony before the same grand jury.
Authorities initially arrested Butler, accusing him of starting the blaze. The grand jury investigated his alleged links to the fire, but returned no indictment against him and Butler was freed.