Sacramento County prosecutors will not seek the death penalty against Neven Butler – accused of fatally beating and attempting to rape an 86-year-old woman during her early morning walk at Highlands High School in April – citing the man’s mental health issues.
Fusako Petrus, a longtime resident of the neighborhood surrounding Highlands High, had exercised on the school’s track for years and was walking with a friend early April 26 when she was attacked and killed. Prosecutors also charged Butler with sexually assaulting Petrus’ friend during the rampage.
Friends later described Petrus as a quiet, happy woman with deep ties to the community that once housed many of the employees at the former McClellan Air Force Base.
Prosecutors instead will seek a sentence of life without parole against Butler, 18, if convicted, citing Butler’s age (he turned 18 just days before the attack), his lack of a prior criminal record and what attorneys on both sides of the case said were concerns about documented mental health issues.
Butler also faces allegations of inflicting great bodily injury and “unjustifiable physical pain” upon a 92-year-old woman he attacked in the Arden Arcade neighborhood hours after Petrus’ fatal beating.
“The facts and circumstances in the case are very egregious,” Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Donell Slivka said after Butler’s Wednesday morning appearance before Sacramento Superior Court Judge Richard Sueyoshi, adding DA’s officials “did find that (life without parole) would be a significant punishment for Butler if he were convicted.”
Butler’s court-appointed counsel, Linda Parisi, said she was pleased with prosecutors’ decision not to pursue the death penalty, calling it an “appropriate decision,” and citing what she said were her client’s “significant mental health issues.”
Butler’s next court appearance is scheduled for Dec. 5.