A New York man who pleaded guilty in a sexual assault case involving multiple teenage girls has evaded jail time because a judge decided that incarcerating him “isn’t appropriate.” Instead, he will get eight years’ probation.
The man, 20-year-old Christopher Belter, stands accused of running a “party house” in a wealthy neighborhood in Lewiston, a town in upstate New York, where his mother, stepfather, and adult family friend would allegedly ply teen girls with alcohol, the Niagara-Gazette reported. Belter’s crimes took place at the house, after parties, according to the Buffalo News.
Belter, a former prep school student, could have been sentenced to up to eight years in prison after he pleaded guilty in 2019 to third-degree rape and attempted first-degree sexual abuse—both felonies—and two misdemeanor counts of second-degree sexual abuse.
“I agonized—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,” Judge Matthew J. Murphy III said at the sentencing on Tuesday, according to local news outlet 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.”
“Justice was not done here today,” Steven M. Cohen, a lawyer for one of Belter’s victims, told the Buffalo News. Cohen said his client was throwing up in the bathroom after the decision. "He is privileged, he comes from money, he is white," added Cohen of Belter. "He was sentenced as an adult, appropriately. For an adult to get away with these crimes is unjust."
In August, one of Belter’s victims asked Murphy not to let “this rapist walk away from two years' probation with a clean slate.”
The girl said that Belter raped her in August 2018, when she was just 16 years old, according to the Buffalo News. Belter, she said, told her to stop being such a baby and that it wouldn’t hurt as much if she stopped resisting.
She recalled focusing on a plant in Belter’s bedroom to get through the experience.
"That 16-year-old girl trusted a bit too much that justice would have been served," the victim said, according to the Buffalo News. "She worried that if she spoke up louder, she would get hurt even worse and hurt other people along the way. She had just assumed that all rapists go to jail."
Belter will now have to be registered as a sex offender. His lawyer told the Buffalo News that he is “tremendously remorseful for what he's done.”
Belter was charged in 2018 with first-degree rape, third-degree rape and sexual abuse, according to the Buffalo News. When he pleaded guilty, he was given two years’ interim probation and, as a condition of that probation, warned not to watch porn.
He broke that rule repeatedly, the Buffalo News reported. At one October hearing, a psychologist who’d treated Belter for the last two years said that his risk of committing more sex crimes was “above-average,” according to the outlet.
Afterward, Murphy decided in October to sentence Belter as an adult rather than a “youthful offender,” even though Belter was 17 when he was charged. In that decision, Murphy said that Belter’s victims included four girls, who, at the time of their encounters with him in 2017 and 2018, were just 15 and 16 years old.