Man,35, accused of bilking woman, 83, says he loved her

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RUTLAND, Vt. (AP) – It wasn’t money, but love that attracted a 35-year-old man to an 83-year-old woman, says a defense lawyer in a federal case in which the man is accused of defrauding her of more than $600,000.

The two began talking by phone and exchanging letters in 1997, when Rex J. Butterfield was serving time in a New Jersey prison for armed robbery. He saw an article in a Columbia University alumni magazine about wolves that mentioned Joan Cunningham, 83, of Benson and included her phone number.

Soon Butterfield’s mother, Barbara Doyle, 58, of Kew Gardens, N.Y., joined her son in calling Cunningham and chatting with her, prosecutors allege. Doyle is charged in the case as well.

Eventually Cunningham agreed to turn over money and other property, says the indictment filed when Butterfield was first charged in U.S. District Court last year.

“From that initial phone call until 2005, the defendants Rex Butterfield and Barbara Doyle maintained a steady stream of phone calls and letters to Joan Cunningham, persuading her that Rex Butterfield cared deeply about and was in love with her,” the indictment said.

“During the course of these solicitations, Rex Butterfield and Barbara Doyle persuaded Joan Cunningham to transfer money and things of value to their control.”

Butterfield didn’t learn Cunningham’s age until about six months after they first spoke, defense lawyer Thomas Sherrer wrote in his motion. “By that time, (Butterfield) felt that he was falling in love with Cunningham and that the age difference between them was irrelevant.”

Butterfield and Cunningham began discussing marriage in 1999; in September of 2000, Cunningham ordered two identical rings, one for her and one for Butterfield, Sherrer wrote.

“The prosecution cannot support its allegation that (Butterfield’s) expressions of love are false statements. (Butterfield) was indeed in love with Cunningham and cared deeply for her,” Sherrer wrote.

He said prosecutors were basing their claim that there was no love on an inference about the ages of the two.

“This inference is ludicrous and is based on a narrow, gender-biased and stereotypical view of love relationships,” Sherrer wrote.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Darrow argued in a written reply that the case should not be dismissed. He said a jury should be asked to determine the facts, including whether there was true love between Butterfield and Cunningham.

“It is the function preliminarily of the grand jury, and subsequently of a trial jury, to consider that issue,” he wrote.

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