NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — An unlicensed counselor in Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community was sentenced to 103 years in prison Tuesday for the sexual abuse of a girl who came to him with questions about her faith.
Nechemya Weberman was convicted in December of 59 counts, including sustained sexual abuse of a child, endangering the welfare of a child and sexual abuse.
Weberman said “no thank you” when asked if he wished to speak. He and his wife had no visible reaction to the sentence. The top charge carried a sentence of 25 years; he got consecutive terms for some of the other charges.
“I clearly remember how I would look in the mirror. I saw a girl who didn’t want to live in her own skin, a girl whose innocence was shattered, a girl who couldn’t sleep at night because of the gruesome invasion that had been done to her body,” the accuser told the court during the sentencing.
She said, “although I suffered as a young girl, I came out a strong woman,” 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported.
The accuser called Weberman a “monstrous predator” and also addressed her abuser directly at one point, asking him how he was “able to torture for all those years, violating people like they were toys.”
The teen also said during the sentencing that sexual abuse is worse than murder because murder is final.
Outside the courtroom, a pack of Weberman’s supporters lashed out, convinced of his innocence.
“Nechemya Weberman is innocent of these charges,” said defense attorney George Farkas. “We believe that an innocent man was convicted and that an innocent man has been sentenced.”
“We believe that the jury got a highly sanitized version of what happened,” Farkas added.
The trial put a spotlight on the ultra-Orthodox Satmar community in Brooklyn and its strict rules that govern clothing, social customs and interaction with the outside world. Both Weberman, 54, and the girl belonged to the Satmar Hasidic sect.
The girl and her family have been harassed and ostracized, reflecting long-held beliefs that any conflict must be dealt with from within. During the trial, men were arrested on charges they tried to bribe the girl and her now-husband to drop the case. Others were accused of snapping photos of her on the witness stand and posting them online.
“I can’t talk much for my wife, but I can say what I went through. Seeing her in pain gave me a lot of pain,” the victim’s husband, Hershy Deutsch, said.
But Deutsch said the trial and the guilty verdict send a strong message to victims of abuse.
“Their voices will be heard and justice will be served,” he said after sentencing.
Many donated thousands of dollars to Weberman’s defense fund and never believed he molested the young girl.
“He would never do such a thing, not near such a thing and it hurts me very much,” Williamsburg resident Yuchezarun Roth said.
But others praised the teen for going against her family and some say, her faith, by reporting Weberman 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,” said Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes.
The accuser, now 18, testified that Weberman abused her repeatedly behind his locked office door from the time she was 12 until she was 15.
Her school had ordered her to see Weberman because she had been asking questions about her religion and was dressing immodestly in violation of the sect’s customs, and she needed to be helped back on the right path. Weberman wasn’t a licensed counselor but spent decades working with couples and families in his community.
There was no physical evidence of abuse.
The defense argued that the girl was angry that Weberman had told her parents she had a boyfriend at age 15, forbidden in her community. Attorney Stacey Richman said the case boiled down to a simple “he said, she said,” and the girl was a petulant, calculating liar.
“The only evidence in this case of sexual abuse is the word of (the girl),” Richman told jurors. “She’s making things up in front of you as they occur.”
But the jury took just hours in December to convict Weberman on all counts.
Hynes said he hoped the case would persuade other victims to come forward.
After handing down the sentence, the judge said the punishment should send a message to the insular Satmar community that sexual abuse of children will not be tolerated, WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell reported.
Weberman’s lawyers have said they plan to appeal.
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