Crime - Sacto 911

Teenager charged with track murder is ‘mentally challenged,’ lawyer says

Neven Butler, 18, appeared in Sacramento Superior Court Monday for arraignment on charges he murdered and attempted to rape an 86-year-old woman who was taking an early morning exercise walk last week on the track of Highlands High School.

Butler wore a quilted green smock intended to prevent him from attempting suicide. His attorney said he has “significant” mental issues.

It was his second appearance in court in the past few days. On Friday, he was charged in a separate assault on a 92-year-old that occurred just hours after Fusako Petrus was sexually assaulted and beaten to death on the high school track where she had been walking with a 61-year-old friend. Authorities allege that Butler attacked the younger woman first, and turned on Petrus when she came to help fend him off with her walking stick.

In the gallery, longtime friends of Petrus attended the hearing to take in the charges. Outside, they shared their memories of the “quiet, simple, happy woman,” in the words of one friend, who they thought would outlive them all.

Butler also faces two counts of attempted rape in the Wednesday assault on the Highlands High School track, where friends said Petrus had walked for years.

Butler is being held without bail at Sacramento County Main Jail. His next hearing date is set for June 8.

No motive has emerged in deadly attack that killed Petrus or the second attack on a 92-year-old woman several hours later that led to Butler’s arrest, but court-appointed defense attorney Linda Parisi later told reporters that there are “serious issues” regarding mental health.

“I do think that he is mentally challenged based on the information that I’ve developed,” Parisi said of her client.

Outside the courtroom, Vicki Butler, no relation, remembered the woman neighbors knew as “Pete,” and talked about a remembrance planned in the coming weeks for Petrus, who emigrated from Japan as a young woman after meeting her husband, an American member of the U.S. Air Force.

“We want to celebrate her life,” Butler said. “We want Fusako to be remembered for the life she had.”

Denise Gore was Petrus’ neighbor for nearly her entire life – 55 years, Gore said outside the courtroom. Now 60, Gore reflected on the lives and roots they shared as neighbors and military families at the former McClellan Air Force Base.

“We grew up in this neighborhood. We’re all military people – it runs deep,” Gore said. “She came over when my dad passed away. You don’t live next to somebody for 55 years and say they’re your neighbor. She was family.”

Darrell Smith: 916-321-1040, @dvaughnsmith

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