Jennica Duell, the biological mother of arson survivor Safyre Terry, received more than 11 years in federal prison Monday for lying to investigators about the arson that killed three of her children and maimed Safyre.
Judge Gary L. Sharpe imposed the sentence, totaling 11 years, 3 months, after finding Duell’s lies inexcusable.
“I am certain that your lies forestalled the discovery of the truth,” Sharpe said after repeating Duell’s competing versions of what caused the 2013 fire.
Federal prosecutors, who noted her lies were detailed and repeated, sought the maximum possible sentence of 15 years.
Duell’s attorney, Cheryl Coleman, argued for as little as five years, contending police coerced Duell into making the false statements.
Prosecutors played portions of a recording of Duell’s initial questioning by police, contending it refuted the defense’s coercion claim. Coleman argued the same portions proved her points.
Duell also pointed to her questioning by police, the first such session taking place right after she learned of the deaths of her children and the maiming of Safyre.
“I should have been stronger,” Duell told the judge.
She then turned her focus to the man she implicated, Robert Butler, saying Butler is innocent of setting the fire. Butler spent nine months in jail before a second suspect emerged and prosecutors freed Butler.
“The whole world should know he’s innocent,” Duell said.
Duell, 28, has been in custody since her November 2014 perjury arrest.
The three counts to which Duell pleaded guilty are related to statements she gave that bolstered charges against Butler. Butler was held for nine months before being released, after attention fell on Edward Leon.
Federal prosecutors have since won convictions after trial against Leon on two perjury counts. He received consecutive five-year sentences in March.
Prosecutors first indicted Duell and Leon in 2014, more than a year after the May 2, 2013, blaze at 438 Hulett St. that killed David Terry, 32, and 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.
Safyre, who became the focus of a worldwide Christmas-card project in December, has been in the care of her aunt, Liz Dolder — David Terry’s sister — since returning home from the hospital.
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.
Duell was accused of lying about the nature of her relationships with David Terry and Butler and how she, Butler and others supposedly got from Saratoga Springs to Schenectady the morning of the fire. She also was accused of lying about buying gasoline, about how the fire started and who started it.
Reach Gazette reporter Steven Cook at 395-3122, [email protected] or @ByStevenCook on Twitter.