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Archive for Friday, December 1, 2000

Witness pleads guilty to lying about identity

30-year-old faces five years in prison, $250,000 fine after plea agreement

December 1, 2000

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— A man accused of testifying under another name at a widely publicized murder-for-hire trial pleaded guilty Thursday to lying to a federal agent about his identity.

Thomas E. Butner, 30, had been charged with perjury for testifying at the trial under the name Shawn Butner. Earlier this month, however, U.S. Magistrate Robert Larsen recommended prosecutors drop that charge.

Under a plea agreement, prosecutors said they would dismiss the perjury charge at Butner's sentencing, which has not been scheduled.

Butner waived indictment and pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the United States.

Butner faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine the same penalty he would have faced with the perjury charge, said Chris Whitley, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Kansas City.

Butner had testified in 1998 against M. J. L'Donna, a Country Club Plaza horse-drawn carriage operator convicted of trying to get someone to kill her boyfriend, her stepfather and a business competitor.

L'Donna appealed her conviction, contending that Butner, who had been her bodyguard, had lied at the trial, but an appeals court agreed with federal prosecutors that his falsehoods were not material to the case against her.

Materiality is a crucial element of proving perjury. Prosecutors could not argue that Butner's statements are material to his perjury charge but not to the L'Donna case, Larsen wrote in his recommendation to the trial judge.

Whitley said prosecutors were preparing their objections to the recommendation when the plea agreement was arranged.

In the murder-for-hire case, L'Donna had offered Butner money in exchange for the killings.

Using the name Shawn Butner, he cooperated with law enforcement officers, agreeing to tape his conversations with L'Donna.

At trial, he identified himself as Shawn and denied that he testified in another Kansas City case, the trial of five people charged in the 1988 explosion that killed six firefighters.

Prosecutors and investigators learned of Butner's true identity after L'Donna's conviction in July 1998 and moved to charge him with perjury.

Butner disappeared after being charged. He was living in the Los Angeles area, but in May he was arrested in Cape Girardeau, where he gave police a false name but was identified by fingerprints.

He remains in federal custody without bond.

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