Monday, November 14, 2011

Elizabeth Butler

William Butler knew something was wrong when his daughter Elizabeth's co-worker said she hadn't shown up for work on June 5, 2005. And the feeling of unease worsened when he spotted her sport utility vehicle nearby with a flat tire.

But most alarming that Sunday morning was when he saw the streaks of blood on the passenger seat. Then he opened the back door and saw the 17-year-old's body wedged between the front and back seats.

"Most dramatic was she had a knife sticking out of her side," he testified yesterday in Westchester County Court in White Plains. "I backed up and screamed to my wife and said Elizabeth's name."
Butler was the first witness in the murder trial of Ariel Menendez, the 28-year-old Bronx man accused of raping Elizabeth Butler and then strangling and stabbing her that morning in her Nissan Pathfinder in North Salem.

Assistant District Attorney Paula Branca-Santos said Menendez could not accept being dumped by his teenage girlfriend and that he brought a kitchen knife to their last confrontation in anticipation of killing her. She said the prosecution had "compelling, powerful and overwhelming" evidence against Menendez, including Butler's blood and his semen on his clothing that he later had a relative try to throw out.

"As Bill Butler and Patty Butler discussed their ordinary plans for that day, Ariel Menendez was actually carrying out his extraordinary plans, plans he hatched the night before," Branca-Santos told the jury in opening statements before Westchester County Judge Barbara Zambelli. "Two miles away (from their home), Ariel Menendez was raping and murdering their 17-year-old daughter ... bringing her short life to a violent end."

Defense lawyer Harvey Loeb conceded that the two had a rocky relationship and it was a tragedy that Butler was killed. But he suggested that the two had consensual sex in the car that morning and that the prosecution would not be able to prove the charges against his client beyond a reasonable doubt.
Menendez is charged with first- and second-degree murder. He could face life in prison with no possibility of parole if prosecutors can convince the jury that Butler was sexually assaulted and that Menendez intentionally killed her during the course of that attack.

Elizabeth Butler was three weeks shy of graduating from North Salem High School when she was killed. She was a peer counselor at the high school and was excited about the prospect of leaving home for college. She had planned to attend Albany University, SUNY.

Menendez and Butler met in the summer before her senior year when she worked at the Hygrade Market across from the train station. Menendez would stop by there on breaks from a nearby construction job.

Her family was later introduced to him as "Carlos" and was unaware of Menendez's real name and age. Butler said his daughter told him Menendez was 19. He said he met him a few times, but Menendez was "not very conversant."

They dated for nearly a year, but she broke off the relationship several weeks before she was killed. Her father said she had begun dating a high school classmate, who took her to the prom, and that she seemed shocked when Menendez showed up at their house before school one morning in May.
Menendez showed no emotion as the trial began, sometimes leaning on his hand, sometimes resting his head on the defense table. Not once did he look at the witness stand, even while Butler stared in his direction as he identified the defendant for the record.

Butler was planning to take his daughter to Hygrade the morning of June 5 because he needed the SUV while his car was disabled. But he did not wake up in time, and when she seemed antsy to leave for work, he told her to take the SUV, that he would pick it up from her later.

"She said, 'OK. Bye. Love you,' " he told Assistant District Attorney Perry Perrone.

Two hours later, she wasn't at the market. He left a message on her cell phone and drove around the block, where he and his wife spotted the Pathfinder.

Once he saw her body, Butler said, he removed the knife, tossed it aside and then gently put her on the back seat.

Several people in the gallery sobbed, and one female juror wiped away tears, as Butler explained how he tried giving her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and how it seemed like forever for police and an ambulance to arrive, even though he knew it took only a few minutes.

His daughter was pronounced dead an hour later at Putnam Hospital Center in Carmel.
(more: see article)


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