BALDWIN, Mich. (WOOD) - On the surface, it appears Eric Knysz should have been in jail when he allegedly shot and killed Michigan State Police Trooper Paul Butterfield Monday. But a common sentencing practice freed him early -- and it wasn't the first time.
State police records show that in March, Knysz was sentenced to a year in the Lake County Jail for carrying a switchblade. But Lake County court records show the judge suspended most of Knysz's jail time, which meant he didn't have to serve it -- a practice that is not uncommon.
Knysz has been in front of Judge Mark Wickens four times for five crimes since 2008. In each case, the judge gave Knysz credit for time served, meaning he was never sentenced to more jail time than what he had served between the time of his arrest and the sentencing hearing.
At 14 years old, he was charged with burglary. In that case, he and two other teens kicked open the door of a house and Knysz used a firearm to shoot open the door of a barn on the property. He was automatically treated as an adult in juvenile court. He was sentenced to a year in jail and served 29 days.
Last year, he was charged with impair driving and was sentenced to 93 days in jail. All 93 were suspended.
In March, he was sentenced to a year behind bars for carrying a switchblade and 90 days on a traffic offense. He served just three days.
Eight days after that sentencing, Knysz assaulted his uncle in a fight that started as an argument over ice cream sandwiches, court records show. For that, he was sentenced to 93 days in jail. He served two.
All told, he has been sentenced to 1,006 days in jail since 2008 and served only 34. The rest of the jail time was suspended.
Judge Wickens declined to comment and Lake County Prosecutor Craig Cooper wouldn't discuss specifics of the prior cases.
"At this time I'm working with prosecutors within Mason County, Manistee County. We've come to the determination that I'm just going to give out my condolences at this time so we don't prejudice any further proceedings," Cooper said.
The prosecutor also said he never would have predicted Knysz would be accused in the murder of a police officer based on his past.
"It was a senseless crime, and I'm going to leave it at that," he said.
Knysz, who was shot in the knee at the time of his arrest, is still awaiting arraignment in connection to Butterfield's death. He faces several charges including murder of a police officer, weapons charges, auto theft and being a habitual offender.
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