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Final defendant accused of lying about fatal fire pleads guilty

Final defendant accused of lying about fatal fire pleads guilty

He admits to being untruthful about who was driving vehicle on night of blaze
Final defendant accused of lying about fatal fire pleads guilty
The fatal fire at 428 Hulett Street St. in Schenectady on May 2, 2013.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

The last of four people charged with perjury in the wake of a fatal arson fire on Hulett Street in 2013 pleaded guilty Wednesday morning.

Bryan Fish admitted to two perjury counts and now faces up to 10 years in federal prison. His plea deal, however, suggests a possible sentence of five years. The judge in the case will decide in September.

Fish pleaded guilty on the same morning that Richard Ramsey, who also lied about the fatal fire, was sentenced to seven years and three months in prison for perjury.

Fish admitted he lied about who was driving a vehicle in a now-discredited account of the May 2013 fire that killed three children and their father. The fire also maimed then-5-year-old Safyre Terry.

Fish's false account, along with that of another defendant, Jennica Duell, helped lead to charges against Robert Butler, then 27, who was accused of setting the fatal fire. Butler spent nine months in custody before prosecutors dropped the charges and freed him, as another suspect, Edward Leon, emerged.

Leon has been convicted of lying to the grand jury and is serving 10 years in prison. Duell pleaded guilty to lying about Butler's involvement and is serving 11 years.

Butler has since sued investigators for false arrest and malicious prosecution. That suit is pending.

No one has been charged with setting the fire.

Fish's attorney, Frederick Rench, previously said his client would push the case to trial, which had been scheduled for June. But on Wednesday, Rench said Fish couldn't risk trial, where a guilty verdict would have meant a possible 15-year sentence.

Rench said he intends to make the same arguments at sentencing that he would have made at trial, including that a false memory was implanted by investigators.

While the Fish plea deal does not guarantee a five-year sentence, the deal would allow Fish to appeal any sentence longer than five years.

Prosecutors asked for a nine-year term for Ramsey, arguing in a pre-sentence memorandum that he offered a "troubling number of accounts" of the fire and admitted that each of the false stories came from him, not investigators or by way of coercion.

Ramsey's defense team argued for a term shorter than the maximum, saying Ramsey fully admitted his conduct harmed the investigation and delayed justice.

Ramsey, 48, pleaded guilty in February in federal court to two counts of perjury. He admitted telling the grand jury two false stories about how he agreed to allow a man to use his car the morning of the May 2, 2013, Schenectady fire.

U.S. Attorney Richard Hartunian issued a statement in response to both Fish's guilty plea and Ramsey's sentencing.

“We will not let lies stand in the way of holding the perpetrators of this awful crime accountable and securing justice for victims and their families," Hartunian's statement read.  "We are committed to bringing this arson homicide investigation to an end by proving beyond a reasonable doubt who caused this horrific tragedy."

In all, the fire claimed the lives of David Terry and his children Layah, 3; Michael, 2; and Donavan Duell, 11 months.

Safyre, who became the focus of a worldwide December 2015 Christmas card project, has been in the care of her aunt, Liz Dolder -- David Terry's sister -- since returning home from the hospital.

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