Oh, to be young and white while going through America’s criminal justice system.
20-year-old New Yorker Christopher Belter was a teenager when he raped and sexually abused four teenage girls on separate occasions during parties at his parents’ home. In 2019, he pleaded guilty to felony charges of third-degree rape and attempted first-degree sexual abuse, as well as two misdemeanor charges of second-degree sexual abuse. On Tuesday, a white judge decided jail time wasn’t “appropriate” for these especially heinous crimes and that eight years probation and a stern warning not to do it again made for a more suitable punishment.
According to the Washington Post, Belter’s crimes took place between February 2017 and August 2018 at his parents’ home in Lewiston, an affluent neighborhood just outside Niagara Falls. Three 16-year-old girls and one 15-year-old girl were assaulted by Belter what was known as the “Pary House,” where his mother, Tricia Vacanti, 50, his stepfather, Gary Sullo, 56, and friend of the family Jessica M. Long, 42, are accused of supplying teens with alcohol and marijuana and grooming the girls for sexual assault according to state police. All three of the adults have pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of child endangerment and unlawfully dealing with a child.
“I’m not ashamed to say that I actually prayed over what is the appropriate sentence in this case because there was great pain,” Niagara County Court Judge Matthew J. Murphy III said in court, according to the Post. “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.”
Murphy said all that but he didn’t elaborate on why he didn’t think incarceration was appropriate. It’s the type of story that’s frustrating for Black people because our youth never seem to be treated with the same “boy next door” energy. This case is giving the same vibes as the judge who appears to basically be trying to adopt Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse instead of trying him for murder.
Anyway, Murphy ruled that instead of the maximum eight years in prison that Belter was facing, he will be sentenced to eight years of probation and will have to register as a sex offender, which Murphy remarked would be “like a sword hanging over your head for the next eight years.”
Belter’s defense attorney, Barry N. Covert, did what lawyers do and tried to make his client look like a repentant child who empathized with his victims.
“He is tremendously remorseful for what he has done,” Covert said, 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.”
One can only wonder where all that empathy was during the entire year and a half that Belters attacks on teenage girls took place.
“My client threw up in the ladies’ room following the sentencing,” Steven M. Cohen, an attorney for one of Belter’s victims said after the ruling. “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.”