Leon Lied: Jury Convicts Arson Suspect on Perjury Charge
ALBANY, N.Y. — It was repeated over and over on the final day of his perjury trial: "Edward Leon is not on trial for arson."
Defense attorney David Gruenberg reminded the jury of that fact. Judge Gary Sharpe did the same, as did the prosecution.
But with so much government evidence presented that ties him to the scene of the crime, it is now difficult to separate Edward Leon from the intentional May 2013 fire that killed nearly an entire family.
"You would have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to see that all the evidence points to him," said Liz Dolder.
Dolder, who lost a brother and three of his children in the May 2013 fire, sat in federal court for three days during Edward Leon's perjury trial. Prosecutors Grant Jaquith and Wayne Meyers laid out a case demonstrating that Leon not only lied about his role in the fire, but that he was watching the flames as they rose.
The jury took less than an hour to convict Leon on Thursday.
"To hear all this evidence against him," Dolder said, "and he's still not charged for the arson murder ..." as her voice trailed off.
For eight months following the Hulett Street arson in Schenectady, Leon insisted he was nowhere near the fire scene the morning of the arson. His dishonesty led a grand jury to investigate Robert Butler as the culprit, a trail that eventually went cold for lack of evidence. Robert Butler was released from federal custody in 2014, and no one has ever been indicted for setting the fire.
In 2014, Leon slipped. After relentless interrogation, Leon re-testified and admitted he was at the scene of the arson the morning of May 2, 2013. On police videotape and in documented grand jury testimony, Leon claimed he was looking for David Terry to confront him about a romantic dispute over a woman.
"I went down to Hulett Street looking for (Terry's) house, and there was a place that was on fire," Leon said. "I turned around, got back in my car and got out of there."
"I did not want to get involved in the matter," he said.
Leon also admitted sending death threats to David Terry via text message, signing them with the pseudonym "The Undertaker." The 32-year-old Terry and his children -- Layah, 3, Michael, 2, and 11-month-old Donovan Duell -- would later die in the May 2 fire, which investigators determined was fueled by gasoline. Leon has never admitted to setting the fire, but federal prosecutors said Thursday that he is still "a target of the investigation."
Leon's lawyer would not comment Thursday on whether the jury may have been swayed by the extensive arson evidence.
"The judge gave specific instructions for them not to consider that," Gruenberg said.
Unable to argue against his client's admissions, Gruenberg had told the jury that Leon's false grand jury testimony was not perjury, because it didn't matter — it did not substantially affect the arson investigation.
"I thought we had a good argument about the 'materiality' of the information Ed provided," Gruenberg said. "I'm very disappointed in the verdict."
The perjury conviction will put Leon in federal prison for up to 10 years. He will be sentenced on March 8, 2016, and also faces up to $500,000 in fines.
In the meantime, the arson investigation will continue.
"We are committed to continuing this investigation as long as it takes, to bring justice for the victims of this terrible crime," said U.S. Attorney Richard Hartunian on Thursday.
Dolder was more direct: "It's not full justice today," she said outside the courthouse. "But it's the appetizer."