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A 20-year-old New York man was facing eight years in prison after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting four teenage girls during parties in his parents’ home, but this week a judge sentenced him to eight years of probation because jail was “inappropriate.”
“I’m not ashamed to say that I actually prayed over what is the appropriate sentence in this case because there was great pain. There was great harm. There were multiple crimes committed in the case,” Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III said according to WKBW. “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.”
Christopher Belter must also register as a sex offender. Murphy said that the probation sentence would be “like a sword hanging over your head for the next eight years,” according to the Washington Post.
The four separate attacks took place between February 2017 an August 2018. Three of the victims were 16 years old and one was 15 years old, the Post reported.
The sentencing sparked outrage.
“Justice was not done here,” Steven M. Cohen, an attorney for one of the victims, told reporters, according to the Post.
“My client threw up in the ladies room following the sentencing,” Cohen told the paper. “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.”
But Belter’s attorney said his client is remorseful, according to the Buffalo News.
“There are clients who are never able to empathize with their victims no matter how much counseling they receive. Chris isn’t one of them," Barry N. Covert said.
Belter’s home in an upscale neighborhood in Western New York was dubbed the “party house,” where teens gathered regularly to consume alcohol, smoke marijuana, and take Adderall, according to the Post.
Three years ago, the then 17-year-old Belter was charged with first-degree rape, third-degree rape and sexual abuse. In 2019, Belter pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree sex abuse, third-degree attempted abuse and third-degree rape and was sentenced to two years of interim probation, WKBW reported.
He was sentenced as an adult because he violated the terms of his interim probation by repeatedly watching pornography online, according to the Buffalo News.
The New York Times reported that Belter told a probation officer that pornography was his “coping mechanism,” and he has been a regular viewer since he was 7 years old.
Murphy had a very different message in a ruling last month that removed Belter from any consideration of youthful offender status. The Buffalo News reported that he wrote: “[Belter] does not hesitate to ignore rules when they compete with his own carnal appetites.”
Murphy also said in that October ruling that Belter had “recently been treated with medication to lessen his libido.”
Had he completed the interim probation, Belter would have faced a maximum four-year sentence, and he would not have to register as a sex offender.
Belter’s mother, Tricia Vacanti, and two other adults, including his stepfather Gary Sullo, allegedly supplied alcohol and marijuana to the teenage girls, according to state police.
All three have pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of child endangerment and unlawfully dealing with a child, according to the Post.
“It’s not a party house case. It was a house of sexual assault,” Peter M. Wydysh,” the assistant district attorney in Niagara County, said during the sentencing, according to the paper. “That is what happened there. That is not something we should look past.”
Belter will learn his sex-offender classification at a hearing on Dec. 3.
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