Court Battles

Man who raped four teen girls at ‘party house’ avoids jail time

A New York man was sentenced to eight years’ probation and no jail time after he pleaded guilty to raping four teenage girls during parties at his parents’ home when he was a teenager, The Washington Post reported.

Niagara County Court Judge Matthew Murphy III said a prison sentence in the case “would be inappropriate.”

The crimes took place between February 2017 and August 2018, when Christopher Belter was 16 or 17, the Post reported. Local officials said three 16-year-old girls and a 15-year-old girl were assaulted in four separate incidents, the report added. 

Belter pleaded guilty in 2019 to felony charges that included third-degree rape and attempted first-degree sexual abuse as well as two misdemeanor charges of second-degree sexual abuse, the Post reported.

In his ruling, the judge said he “agonized” over the sentence and said “I’m not ashamed to say I actually prayed over what the appropriate sentence would be,” according to The Buffalo News.

He added that his probationary status would be “like a sword hanging over your head for the next eight years.”

The lawyer for one of the victims, Steven Cohen, was visibly enraged by the ruling and said, “Justice was not done here today,” The Buffalo News reported.

“For an adult to get away with these crimes is unjust,” Cohen added. 

“If Chris Belter was not a white defendant from a rich and influential family, it is my belief he wouldn’t have received the original plea deal, and he would surely have been sentenced to prison,” Cohen said in a statement to The Hill.

“The greater harm however, is that the sentencing in this matter would seem to perpetuate the insane belief that rape is not a serious crime and that its occurrence results in little consequence to the perpetrator. Our society needs to do much better,” he added.

“My client, one of four of Belter’s known victims, threw up in the ladies room following the sentencing,” Cohen said.

 

 
Belter’s mother, Tricia Vacanti, now 50; his stepfather, Gary Sullo, 56; and Jessica Long, 42, a family friend, have been accused of supplying teen girls with alcohol and marijuana and helping groom them for sexual assaults, the Post reported.
 
Belter was previously placed on two years’ interim probation as he sought youthful offender status. However, Judge Sara Sheldon at the time predicted he would find it difficult to comply with the restrictions, the Post said.
 
The 20-year-old admitted to violating his probation by installing software on his personal computer that allowed him to view pornography, which was restricted. He also told his probation officer that he had been watching porn since he was 7 years old, according to the News.
 
Cohen further added that his client is “understandably upset” that Judge Sarah Sheldon’s admonishment two years ago that if Chris Belter violated any of the requirements of probation that there would be serious consequences has not occurred.”
 
As part of his sentence, Belter will have to register as a sex offender.
 
After the trial, defense attorney Barry Covert made a statement on behalf of Belter, saying, “He is tremendously remorseful for what he’s done,” according to the 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,” he added.
 
Covert in a statement to The Hill said that his client is “not commenting on this matter.”
 
This story was updated at 4:15 p.m. on Nov. 18.
Tags Sexual violence youthful offender

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