Baltimore County Police used cellphone records and video surveillance footage to link 18-year-old jockey Bryson Butterfly to an armed robbery that ended in the fatal shooting of his 17-year-old friend, according to charging papers filed in court.
After police found Butterfly near a McDonald’s in Overlea shortly after Elias Cieslak was shot in the area April 23, Butterfly said he had fled the armed robbery that killed the Parkville High School senior.
Butterfly told police he had met up with Cieslak for a marijuana deal when both were robbed, according to charging documents. Before that, Butterfly had been driving both of them in a Subaru Forester.
According to cellphone records that detectives obtained for the two teenagers’ phones, both taken during the robbery, a call took place between Butterfly’s phone and the phone of one of the alleged robbers a few minutes before Butterfly picked up Cieslak.
Immediately after the shooting, Butterfly’s phone traveled away from the scene, then stopped near his home as police were interviewing him.
Police in charging documents accused Butterfly of conspiring with two others to rob Cieslak at gunpoint.
The U.S. Marshals Service arrested Butterfly in West Virginia on June 23, where he races horses at the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races track. Along with 32-year-old David Lofton and a teenager, Butterfly faces charges of first-degree murder, armed robbery, robbery and a misdemeanor firearm offense. The Baltimore Sun is not naming the third person charged because he is a minor.
Baltimore County District Court Judge Marsha L. Russell denied Butterfly bail in a hearing Wednesday. He appeared virtually from the Baltimore County Detention Center. A preliminary hearing in the case is set for Aug. 18.
Assistant State’s Attorney Adam Lippe called Butterfly “the mastermind” behind the robbery that turned deadly.
“There’s an innocent explanation here,” said Sara Kopecki, an attorney for Butterfly.
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Kopecki said the state’s case was “based at best on circumstantial evidence” and requested home detention for her client.
Butterfly was “relieved” to see police after the shooting and voluntarily underwent “hours and hours of [police] interrogation,” Kopecki said. She said Butterfly, who she said earns between $500 and $600 a week as a jockey, was not the person using his phone to make calls after the shooting.
Investigators found thousands in counterfeit money, an empty green duffle bag and one shell casing at the scene, according to charging documents.
Phone records described in charging documents showed calls between Butterfly’s phone and the minor’s phone shortly before Butterfly picked up Cieslak and in the days following Cieslak’s death. Video surveillance showed the vehicle Lofton and the teenager were driving near the McDonald’s parking lot just as Butterfly arrived to pick up Cieslak, charging documents said.
Butterfly continued using his phone before reporting it lost or stolen in May, charging documents said.
Juan Cieslak, the father of Elias Cieslak, said Wednesday that his son was proud to watch Butterfly racing horses on TV. He and other family members wore a shirt with Elias’ photo printed on it to court.
“I wish I could have my son back and they could have theirs,” Cieslak said after the hearing, gesturing to Butterfly’s family outside the courtroom. “They can talk to their son on the phone, but I can’t talk to my son in heaven.”