A New York man convicted of raping multiple teenage girls while he was in high school will not spend any time behind bars after a judge determined that "incarceration isn't appropriate."
Christopher Belter, formerly of Lewiston, New York, pled guilty in 2019 to raping one young girl and sexually abusing three others during parties at his parents' wealthy home just outside Niagara Falls. Belter, now 20, was between 16 and 17 years old when he committed the crimes. His victims were between the ages of 15 and 16 years old.
The maximum punishment for his actions would have been eight years in a state prison. But on Tuesday, he was sentenced to eight years of probation instead, and ordered to register as a sex offender, WKBW-reported.
Niagara County Court Judge Matthew J. Murphy III said he "agonized" over the sentencing, but in the end, he felt that prison time was not "appropriate."
"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," Murphy explained, according to 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."
The ruling reportedly shocked those inside the courtroom, which included one of Belter's victims. The Washington Post further elaborated on the fallout:
Steven M. Cohen, an attorney for one of the victims, denounced the judge's sentencing, saying to reporters Tuesday, "Justice was not done here." He told The Washington Post on Wednesday that his client, who was joined by some of the other victims in the courtroom, was "deeply disappointed" in the sentencing.
"My client threw up in the ladies room following the sentencing," Cohen said. "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."
Belter's attorney, Barry Covert, declined to comment to the Post. But according to the Buffalo News, he remarked after the sentencing that his client now sorely regrets his crimes.
"He is tremendously remorseful for what he's done," Covert said. "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."
Judge Murphy noted that Belter's probation would "be like a sword hanging over your head for the next eight years."
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