NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Brooklyn ultra-Orthodox Jewish leader Nechemya Weberman became a convicted pedophile Monday, when a jury found him guilty on five dozen counts of child sex abuse.
Weberman, 54, was convicted on all 60 counts of criminal sexual abuse for allegedly molesting a girl he was counseling over a three-year span beginning when the girl was 12, WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell reported. The jury deliberated for about one day before issuing a verdict.
The charges include sexual conduct with a child and criminal sexual acts, CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported.
WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell reports
Weberman showed no emotion as the verdict was read, Cornell reported. He was handcuffed and taken into police custody after the verdict was read. Weberman faces up to 25 years in prison when he is sentenced on Jan. 9. The defense said it is planning to appeal the conviction.
“I think she was very conflicted about it, and I think that’s why it took her so long to come forward. And I think she just finally gathered the strength and I think she said it best in her own words, is that she didn’t want to be responsible for this to happen to anybody else. And she felt the need to come forward. And she was just an incredibly strong, incredibly brave person,” prosecutor Linda Weinman told Cornell.
The unlicensed counselor did not turn to look back at his family seated just 10 feet away in court.
“I was actually very, very, very nervous because I look at this as a new era for the Jewish religious community,” victims’ advocate Pearl Reich told CBS 2’s Aiello after the verdict was read.
Reich said she knows the victim, who broke with tradition and worked with police.
“She is definitely going to need a lot of help, and this is the core therapy right now, the fact that he came out guilty and he’s going with handcuffs into that prison,” Reich told Aiello.
“It was based on the testimony of the victim, which was remarkable. She was cross-examined for over three days, which is by far the longest I’ve ever seen a victim of sexual assault being cross-examined for and she withstood all of the questions that were asked of her for days,” prosecutor Kevin O’Donnell told Cornell.
Meanwhile, as CBS 2’s Derricke Dennis reported, some celebrated the verdict Monday night, but Weberman also had his defenders on the streets of the fiercely private Satmar community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn — four of whom were arrested for allegedly trying to bribe the victim.
“He would never do such a thing, not near such a thing,” said Williamsburg resident Yuchezarun Roth. “And it hurts me very much.”
Many donated to the rabbi’s defense fund, and never believed he molested the young girl at the center of the case. One woman who knows the accuser said she did not believe the story that led to Weberman’s conviction.
“She was a troubled teen, unfortunately,” said Rifkey Spitzer. When asked if she believed the story that the girl was molested by Weberman, Spitzer replied, “No, I don’t believe it.”
But those urging the community to change attitudes about reporting abuse hailed the verdict, Aiello reported.
“There’s a complete turnaround in our community. People do come forward, with all the pressures that they have, and this is going to be a very strong message for all the pedophiles,” activist Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg told Aiello.
Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes praised the unidentified victim for going against her own family and her own Hasidic values – and betraying her community by some people’s accounts – by reporting the rabbi to police.
“I can’t understate just how we’ve come to regard her as a woman of courage to come forward at a very, very difficult time,” Hynes said.
Hynes said the case could be a watershed moment for the Satmar community, giving victims of all kinds of crimes the power to break tradition and go straight to the NYPD for help.
“It will give people more courage to come forward,” Hynes said.
The verdict is seen as a huge victory for Hynes, who has been criticized by some for mishandling sex abuse cases in the Orthodox community.
“We are very hopeful that this will lead to other young women in this community and other communities understanding that they can come forward and they will be protected,” the DA said.
Fordham University Law Professor James Cohen said the verdict was a victory for victims of abuse suffering in religious silence.
“Hopefully, that will have a ripple effect, and this sort of conduct will be clearly not tolerated by this community any longer,” Cohen said.
Deliberations began Friday but the jury was convened for just an hour. Monday’s verdict came down around 2:30 p.m.
The defense had argued that the girl leveled the charges against Weberman as an act of revenge because she believed he told her father about her boyfriend, which is in violation of Satmar law.
The accuser, now 18 and married, waited three years before telling anyone about the alleged abuse.
Earlier Monday, the jurors reviewed testimony from an expert witness on the question of why children delay disclosing when they’ve been victims of sexual abuse.
The witness testified that waiting to report sexual abuse is not unusual because the abuser is generally someone the child knows well or is in a powerful position. That gives the child a feeling of helplessness or social rejection, the witness testified.
The girl was ordered to attend counseling sessions several times a week with Weberman or be kicked out of school, Cornell reported.
The girl testified that school officials told her she was a “piece of dirt,” Cornell reported.
The jury also heard a read-back of testimony from a licensed social worker who works with Orthodox Jewish children. Sarah Fried testified that the teenage accuser did not open up to her about the alleged sexual abuse right away.
The therapist testified that she knew something had happened to the girl because she was anxious and depressed.
When the accuser did tell Fried about the sexual abuse, Fried testified that the girl could barely get the words out and then fled from her office.
The defense argued that the accuser was so rebellious against the Satmar community that she should have been able to speak up about sex abuse.
The expert witness testified that the comparison was like comparing night and day, Cornell reported.
The accuser and Weberman both testified during the trial.
Another accuser has now come forward, saying Weberman sexually abused her, CBS 2 reported.
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