Edward Leon twice lied to a federal grand jury about material issues related to the May 2013 arson fire that killed a man and three children and maimed a fourth child, a jury found this morning.
The jury found Leon lied when he denied being in Schenectady that morning and lied when he denied knowing who operated an anonymous cell phone used to send threatening text messages to the adult killed in the devastating May 2, 2013, blaze, David Terry.
Leon later testified to the grand jury that he owned the cell phone and sent the threatening text messages. The St. Johnsville resident also admitted to not only being in Schenectady just before neighbors reported the fire, but he admitted to being on foot across the street.
The jury made its findings this morning, convicting Leon of two counts of perjury after barely an hour of deliberations.
To date, no one has been charged with setting the fire.
Evidence presented at Leon’s perjury trial this week painted him as a jilted lover who hid behind an anonymous cell phone to send threatening messages to his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend, Terry. Leon then admitted to authorities to being in Schenectady to secretly try and find Terry’s residence, with the intention of confronting the man. He continued that search the morning of the fire, he admitted in a recorded interrogation played at trial.
He also admitted to purchasing and operating the phone used to send anonymous messages to David Terry in the days leading up to the fire saying “Die, Dave, Die” and saying Terry wouldn’t make it to his expected wedding day.
While he ultimately admitted to being in Schenectady, and that he owned and operated the “threat phone,” as described by prosecutors, Leon denied setting the fire himself.
Killed in the arson fire at 438 Hulett St. were 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.
Attending much of the three-day trial was Liz Dolder, her husband Michael and some family and friends. Dolder is David Terry’s sister and she and her husband cared for Layah. They now care for Sa’fyre.
Liz Dolder sat with her husband to one side and another relative, Shirley Armour, to the other as they awaited the verdict. They held hands as Judge Gary L. Sharpe read the jury’s findings: Guilty on both counts.
Leon is to be sentenced in March. He faces up to five years in prison on each count.
After the verdict, Dolder said the trial was the first time where she heard much of the evidence against Leon. Asked by reporters her reaction to the evidence, Dolder listed off all the evidence presented against Leon and said she was shocked by “how premeditated it was.”
She said she is now sure of Leon’s involvement in the fire that killed her brother and three of her brother’s children and also maimed Sa’fyre.
“How are you there at 4:20, admit with your own mouth that you’re there at 4:20, yet the first call to 911 was at 4:22?” Dolder said. “Somebody that’s been threatening him on the cell phone, who’s drove by, whose van was caught at the scene. Give me a break. Give me a break.”
Street surveillance video shows Leon’s van heading toward Hulett Street on Hamilton Street minutes before the fire broke out and Leon admitted to investigators the van on the video was his.
Sharpe made clear in his instructions to the jury that the jury’s task was to decide whether Leon lied, not who committed the arson murders.
Leon’s conviction now puts the focus on the other individual accused of lying to the grand jury investigating the Hulett Street arson: Jennica Duell.
Duell, the mother of the three children killed in the fire and the mother of the injured child, faces her own perjury counts related to her vivid account that she was there at 438 Hulett Street when another man, Robert A. Butler, set it. She later recanted that testimony before the same grand jury.
Butler spent seven months in jail facing an arson murder charge that could have brought the death penalty upon conviction. Authorities freed him in January 2014, shortly after Leon testified to his own presence at the fire scene and operation of the “threat phone.”
That same grand jury continued until November 2014 and ultimately returned no arson murder indictments. Authorities have said the overall investigation continues.
The jury returned its verdict after prosecutors and Leon’s defense gave closing arguments.
Leon’s attorney, David Gruenberg, argued that his client corrected the record with his second grand jury appearance and that his client’s statements were not material to the then-target Butler investigation.
Prosecutor Grant Jaquith argued that Leon’s statements were false and that they were material to the investigation.
He argued that Leon intended to conceal himself from scrutiny. Leon also didn’t voluntarily correct his statements, he only did it after investigators presented him with cell phone records and surveillance video to show that he lied. Even then, Jaquith told the jury, Leon incrementally moved his story only when pressed.
“A confession emerged drop by drop,” Jaquith told the jury, noting later that confession was to perjury.