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Charges Dropped Against Man Accused of Setting Fatal Fire

SCHENECTADY -- The man accused of setting a fire at a Schenectady home that killed three children and their dad, has walked out of prison a free man.  The US Attorney has dismissed charges against Robert Butler, saying the case involves unusual and complex facts that require further investigation.

Family members and friends of David Terry who was killed in the blaze are furious.  The fire at 438 Hulett Street in Schenectady on May 2, 2013 killed Terry and three children, Michael Terry, 3, Layah Terry, 2, and Donovan Duell, 11 months.  A fourth child is still recovering.

Investigators initially said that Robert Butler, who was a former boyfriend of the children's mother, threw gasoline on the stairs leading to the upper apartment and lit the gas on fire.  County investigators turned the case over to Federal Investigators in June 2013 who at the time said that Butler was facing a maximum of life in prison or even the death penalty if convicted.   On Friday though, the US Attorney's office dismissed the charges against Butler without prejudice, meaning it can still charge him again after further investigation.

U.S. Attorney Richard Hartunian said in a statement, "The gravity of the crime and the potential punishments, the unusual and complex facts, including information regarding the involvement of others, and the circumstances regarding eyewitnesses necessitate further investigationWe are completely committed to continuing this investigation until justice is doneThe victims of this horrific crime deserve and will continue to get our best efforts to secure justice."

At issue seems to be conflicting statements from three witnesses who were with Butler the night of the fire.  "When was the last time that we ever saw a murder defendant released from jail because a prosecutor says we don't have proof at this time to charge him or even keep him in jail, that's unusual," says Paul DerOhannesian, a legal analyst.  According to the criminal complaint filed in US District Court, 3 other individuals were with Butler the night of the fire and they have all given conflicting reports about what happened.  "If there are several witnesses who saw him set gasoline on fire, who saw him set this fire, that means that perhaps individuals are not telling the truth, there's something very wrong when you have all these sworn witnesses saying he committed the crime and then you say, wait a minute, we're not sure, we're going to let him released," he adds.

A detective who interviewed Butler following the fire also claimed to have smelled gasoline on him but a forensic exam later that day showed no signs of it.   The family and Fridays of David Terry are planning a vigil at the site of the fire for Wednesday at 6pm.
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