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Mother of Schenectady fire victims admits lying to grand jury

Mother of Schenectady fire victims admits lying to grand jury

Jennica Duell, the biological mother of Safyre Terry, pleaded guilty this morning to three federal c
Mother of Schenectady fire victims admits lying to grand jury
Jennica Duell, mother of Safyre Terry, enters the Federal Courthouse in Albany on Monday May 16, 2016. She is accused of making false statements to the grand jury about the fire at 438 Hulett St. in Hamilton Hill that killed David Terry, 32; Layah Terr...
Photographer: Marc Schultz

Jennica Duell, the biological mother of Safyre Terry, pleaded guilty this morning to three federal counts of perjury.

Duell, 28, formerly of Schenectady, admitted to lying to a federal grand jury investigating the May 2013 fire that killed three of her children, maimed a fourth and killed their father.

She had faced a total of five perjury counts in the case, accused of essentially giving contradictory statements to the body.

Judge Gary L. Sharpe questioned Duell about the agreement, including whether she had all her questions answered and whether she understood it.

"I understand it," Duell responded.

Duell, who has been in custody since her November 2014 arrest, appeared in court with her attorney Cheryl Coleman.

As Duell went through the process of pleading guilty, she appeared to become emotional, Coleman handing her a tissue.

Duell is to be sentenced Sept. 12. She faces up to five years on each perjury count, sentences that could run consecutive for a total of up to 15 years.

The final sentence will be up to Judge Gary L. Sharpe.

Federal prosecutors re-indicted Duell last month, dividing the allegations from a single count of perjury into five separate counts.

Duell was accused of lying to the federal grand jury investigating the 2013 Schenectady arson.

Duell’s original account bolstered charges against the man originally charged with setting the fire, Robert A. Butler. Butler spent nine months in jail before being freed after a second suspect emerged, Edward Leon, of St. Johnsville.

Prosecutors freed Butler and later pursued two perjury charges against Leon. They won convictions against Leon on both and then consecutive five-year sentences in March. Leon denies setting the fire.

Duell and Leon were first indicted in 2014, more than a year after the May 2, 2013 blaze at 438 Hulett St. that killed David Terry, 32, his children Layah, 3, Michael, 2, and Donavan Duell, 11 months. Safyre, found by firefighters in her father’s arms, suffered severe injuries and underwent a long recovery that continues.

The arson remains. unsolved and a reward of up to $40,000 continues to be offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever is responsible for the fire.

Duell initially gave a bogus account in which she described being with Butler when he set the fire. Authorities freed him in February 2014 after Duell recanted her testimony against Butler and other evidence surfaced.

The perjury charges are based on allegations that Duell gave separate accounts that contradicted each other, meaning one has to be false.

She was accused of lying about the nature of her relationships with David Terry and Butler; how she, Butler and others supposedly got from Saratoga Springs to Schenectady that morning; got gasoline; how the fire started and by whom; and supposed discussion of a cover story.

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