Crime - Sacto 911

Suspect in fatal beating of elderly woman refuses court appearance

The man facing murder and attempted rape charges in the deadly attack on an 86-year-old woman as she walked on a high school track last April could face a preliminary hearing in March in the fatal beating.

Neven Butler refused his scheduled Tuesday appearance in Sacramento Superior Court, but Judge Kevin McCormick set a March 23 date for his return. That’s when McCormick is expected to schedule a preliminary hearing where prosecutors will lay out their evidence in support of a trial.

Butler remains held without bail at Sacramento County Main Jail.

The Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office decided in November that it would not seek the death penalty against Butler, 18, citing his age, lack of a prior criminal record, and what defense attorney and prosecutor alike said were documented mental health issues.

Prosecutors will instead seek a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole against the one-time Highlands High student.

Fusako Petrus was walking the track at Highlands High School with a friend early on the morning of April 26, 2017, when her younger friend was attacked. Authorities say Petrus was sexually assaulted and pummeled to death after she tried to fend off her friend’s attacker with her walking stick. Prosecutors allege Petrus’ friend also was sexually assaulted.

A gentle presence for decades in the neighborhood near the once-thriving but now closed McClellan Air Force Base, Petrus was remembered by friends at a May court appearance as a happy woman with deep roots in her community.

Investigators tied Butler to a later rampage 12 miles away on Northrup Avenue. There, too, the victim was elderly. Prosecutors say Butler inflicted “unjustifiable physical pain” upon a 92-year-old woman set upon hours after Petrus was killed.

Authorities arrested Butler at the spot of that attack without incident.

Darrell Smith: 916-321-1040, @dvaughnsmith

Related stories from Sacramento Bee