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Key witness testifies in liquor store homicide case

Man reportedly turned in brother-in-law, handed over gun to police

He shot the wrong man.

Testimony in Southfield’s 46th District Court Aug. 18 revealed that Mike Khmoro, 48, was not the intended target when he was murdered Oct. 6, 2010, in the parking lot of Cronin’s Liquor Store in Southfield.

The prosecution’s star witness in the case against Southfield resident Bruce Butler turned out to be Butler’s brother-in-law, Andrew Roberts, who took the stand and detailed his knowledge of the crime.

Roberts said Butler, who is married to the sister of his late wife, called him shortly after the murder took place saying he needed to see him. Butler came by Roberts’ house the next day and confessed to murdering Khmoro, Roberts testified. He also asked him to stash the gun he’d used to do so, Roberts said.

“He broke down and told me what happened,” Roberts said. “He said the person that came out of the store wasn’t the person he was there for.”

This statement drew an enormous response from the victim’s family, about 30 of whom sat in the courtroom, many wearing T-shirts containing Khmoro’s image. A woman in hysterics was escorted out and the judge asked others to quiet down so the testimony could proceed. Butler was reportedly upset about a dispute over a lottery ticket, Roberts said. The ticket was for $250,000, he said. Butler had been brewing about the situation for awhile, Roberts said. But he hadn’t intended to kill Khmoro — or even his younger brother, who was the actual target. He only meant to scare him, Roberts testified Butler told him.

“He said he waited,” Roberts said. “(The victim) was bringing out trash or something. He said he held his hand out the window and just shot. He asked if I’d give him an alibi and I told him no. …He said ‘I have my father’s gun. You can keep it if you want or get rid of it.’”

The gun had been wrapped with paper and placed in a plastic bag. Roberts testified that he didn’t open the bag or look at or touch the gun — he instead hid it in the trunk of his late wife’s car in the garage of his home. He said he demanded that Butler confess what he did to his wife — who was out of town at the time — and then go to the police.

Butler was due to retire in December after a 36-year career with General Motors, and reportedly told his brother-in-law that he wanted to wait to turn himself in until after he retired so his wife could receive his benefits, according to testimony. But after 10 months, Roberts said, he was so bothered by the situation that he decided to go to the police himself. He did so Aug. 2, and Butler was arrested Aug. 5 and charged with first-degree murder and possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

Roberts said he isn’t interested in the $10,000 in reward money offered up by Crime Stoppers and the Chaldean-American Chamber of Commerce. “It’s not about the money,” he said on the stand when defense attorney Joseph Niskar questioned him, adding that he didn’t plan to make any claims. Niskar also suggested that Roberts had been in possession of Butler’s father’s gun at the time the murder took place, and insinuated that perhaps he was the one who committed the crime, which Roberts firmly denied.

Oakland County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Ken Frazee also called to the stand Detective James Dziedzic, who has been with the Southfield Police Department for 33 years. Dziedzic testified regarding surveillance footage, captured by Cronin’s and a neighboring business, of the suspect vehicle arriving in the parking lot and later fleeing the scene. The black GMC Envoy in the images matches the description of Butler’s wife’s vehicle, but the plate could not be made out, nor the driver behind the wheel, Dziedzic said.

Frazee argued before Judge Susan Moiseev that the prosecution had shown probable cause that Butler committed the crime, and asked her to bind the matter over to Oakland County Circuit Court for trial. He cited the fact that there was a prior dispute between Butler and an employee at the store, that he’d been lying in wait outside the store, and the “great number of wounds inflicted” on the victim, which Frazee said showed premeditation.

Niskar, on the other hand, denied this had been proven.

“If you believe Mr. Roberts, Mr. Butler was not there with the premeditated intent to kill anyone — he was there to scare,” Niskar said. “There is no proof of premeditation. The only proof of any kind of murder in this case is second-degree murder.”

Moiseev sided with the prosecution and bound the matter over to Circuit Court on first-degree murder.

“It’s obvious I have concluded the testimony of Mr. Roberts is credible,” she said. “It’s enough for this court to believe there is sufficient probable cause to bind over.” Outside the courtroom after the hearing, both sets of family members were filled with emotion over the case.

“I’ve been saying that this was a God-fearing man and a God-loving man, who also loved his family,” said Kenny Matti, the victim’s nephew. “The testimony today showed that he was all that. He had nothing to do with it, and he was murdered in vain.” Pastor David Roberson, who said he has known Butler for years, was among those who came out in droves to support the defendant.

“We believe Bruce is innocent,” he said. “We’re here to support him. We’re praying for both families. … We just have to wait and see what happens. We just pray to God the truth comes out.” Frank Hammer of Detroit has known Butler since 1975 when he began working at GM.

“I think it’s important for the public to know that his innocence or guilt is to be determined by a jury in a court of law to be completed when all the facts are known,” Hammer said. “At this time, we should grant Bruce Butler the presumption of innocence until it is proven in court beyond a reasonable doubt. We respect the loss of the victim’s family and the community, and with them, seek justice in this case for whoever is responsible for taking the life of their dear deceased family member.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jennie Miller at jmiller@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1108.

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