A New York man who pleaded guilty to rape and sexual abuse after assaulting four teenage girls during parties at his parents’ home in a wealthy neighbourhood will not face jail time .
udge Matthew Murphy told Niagara County Court he “agonised” over the case of Christopher Belter (20), who was accused of committing the crimes when he was 16 or 17.
Belter in 2019 admitted a series of charges that included third-degree rape and att- empted first-degree sexual abuse as well as two charges of second-degree sexual abuse.
Although he faced a maximum sentence of eight years in prison, Judge Murphy concluded that jail time “would be inappropriate” in a ruling that shocked the courtroom.
“I’m not ashamed to say that I actually prayed over what is the appropriate sentence in this case because there was great pain,” the judge said.
“There was great harm. There were multiple crimes committed in the case.
“It seems to me that a sentence that involves incarceration or partial incarceration isn’t appropriate, so I am going to sentence you to probation.”
Belter, of Lewiston, New York, was sentenced on Tuesday to eight years’ probation. He will also have to register as a sex offender.
Judge Murphy told him the probation sentence would be “like a sword hanging over your head for the next eight years”.
The judge did not elaborate on why he did not impose jail time, but Steven Cohen, an attorney for one of the victims, denounced the judge’s sentencing, and said after the hearing: “Justice was not done here.”
He told The Washington Post yesterday that his client, who had been joined by some of the other victims in the courtroom, was “deeply disappointed” in the sentencing.
“My client threw up in the ladies’ room following the sentencing,” Mr Cohen said.
“If Chris Belter was not a white defendant from a rich and influential family, in my experience he would surely have been sentenced to prison.”
Barry Covert, Belter’s attorney, declined to comment. After the sentencing hearing, the defence lawyer told reporters Belter regretted what he did as a teen.
“He is tremendously re- morseful for what he has done,” Mr Covert said.
“There are clients who are never able to empathise with their victims, no matter how much counselling they receive. Chris isn’t one of them.”
The crimes took place between February 2017 and August 2018 at Belter’s parents’ home in a wealthy neighbourhood of Lewiston, a few miles outside Niagara Falls.
During that time, three 16-year-old girls and a 15-year-old girl were assaulted in four separate incidents, according to the judge.
Before sentencing, Belter told the court he had “come to feel deep shame and regret for my actions”. He addressed the victims in attendance, saying: “None of you deserved to be in this situation.” (© The Washington Post)
© Washington Post