When Christopher Belter was 17 years old, he raped and assaulted three 16-year-old girls and a 15-year-old girl in four separate incidents in 2017 and 2018. The assaults took place in his home during parties that were held there.
Belter, from the wealthy suburb of Lewiston, N.Y., just a few miles from Niagara Falls, pleaded guilty in 2019 to lesser felony charges of third-degree rape and attempted first-degree sexual abuse.
At his sentencing hearing, the now 20-year-old Belter could have been sent to prison for eight years. Instead, Niagara County Court Judge Matthew J. Murphy announced, “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,” 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.”
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 promised that the rich kid was “tremendously remorseful for what he has done” — as if that’s enough to get a rapist off scot-free.
And yes, Belter is a rapist.
The fourth teen who was assaulted by Belter gave what Murphy described as a “gripping statement” of how she focused on a plant while she was being raped.
“During the rape, he told her to stop being such a baby. She focused her attention on the leaves of the plant as she cried during the attack,” Murphy wrote, according to the News. “The Defendant told her that, if she stopped resisting, it wouldn’t hurt as much.”
Originally, Belter was charged with first-degree rape, third-degree rape, and sexual abuse for the assaults. While reducing charges in a plea deal is fairly common, reducing them to the point where the judge had the discretion to grant probation was a terrible mistake by the prosecution.
Belter has struggled with keeping to the terms of his probation. He apparently was able to circumvent the porn blocks on his computer and watch pornography in direct violation of his parole — not once, but several times. What’s the point of granting parole if it’s not enforced?
Belter’s parents also bear some responsibility.
The “party house” label at Belter’s family home was fueled by his mother, Tricia Vacanti, now 50; his stepfather, Gary Sullo, 56; and Jessica M. Long, 42, a family friend, who allegedly supplied teen girls with alcohol and marijuana, according to state police. The three adults, who police say helped groom the women for sexual assaults by Belter, have pleaded not guilty in Lewiston Town Court to misdemeanor charges of child endangerment and unlawfully dealing with a child. None of them responded to requests for comment Wednesday.
Facilitating rape is a misdemeanor? Were the prosecutor and judge golfing buddies with this perverted family?
Belter goes back to court on December 3 to determine what level of sex offender he will be listed as. It will be interesting to see if all the remaining charges disappear.
It shouldn’t surprise us if they do.