A man was spared prison time Tuesday after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting four teenage girls because the judge believed putting him behind bars “would be inappropriate,” NBC News reports.
In court documents obtained by the New York Times, Christopher Belter, 20, pleaded guilty to raping a 16-year-old girl when he was also a teenager inside his family’s New York home. The woman, identified as M.M., spent the night in Belter’s house with his sister before leaving for Chicago the next day. During the incident, he threw her onto his bed, pulled off her clothes, and told her to stop being a baby.
In 2018, Belter was charged with first-degree rape, third-degree rape and sexual abuse before accepting a plea deal the following year for lesser charges of third-degree rape, attempted first-degree sexual abuse, and two misdemeanor counts of second-degree sexual abuse. He was given two years probation by another judge before retiring.
When he was put on two years of probation, Belter was given the opportunity to apply for youthful offender status if he did not commit any violations. Last month, Belter admitted that he installed software on his computer that allowed him to bypass a block so he could watch porn, which was a violation. The 20-year-old was eventually denied youthful offender status by Niagara County Court Judge Matthew J. Murphy III.
“The assumption when Judge Murphy denied youthful offender status was that Chris Belter would receive prison time,” Steven M. Cohen, who is an attorney for M.M., said, per NBC News.
Belter was set to face his punishment for sexually attacking M.M., and three other teenage girls, but Judge Murphy said he “agonized” over the decision at his sentencing, saying, “I’m not ashamed to say I actually prayed over what the appropriate sentence would be.”
“It seems to me that a sentence that involves incarceration or partial incarceration isn’t appropriate,” Murphy said, per the New York Times. Belter was given 10 years probation, with two years removed for time served. Murphy believed that the eight remaining years of probation would be “like a sword hanging” over his head, but didn’t get into why sexually assaulting four girls didn’t warrant prison time.
“My client threw up in the ladies room following the sentencing,” Cohen said, adding that she’s “deeply disappointed in the sentencing.” Cohen told the New York Times via email that Belter “would surely have been sentenced to prison,” if it weren’t a “white defendant from a rich and influential family.” His mother Tricia Vacanti is a senior partner at the law firm Goldberg Segalla where some partners reportedly earn $1 million per year.
Vacanti, along with his stepfather Gary Sullo, and family friend Jessica Long, were named in a lawsuit filed by M.M.’s family, accusing them of child endangerment and unlawfully dealing with a child for providing the four victims with alcohol and marijuana. They have plead not guilty, NBC News reports.