NY Judge Matthew Murphy saves 20-year-old Christopher Belter, who raped four minors, a jail sentence
NIAGARA COUNTY, NEW YORK: Niagara County Court Judge Matthew Murphy shocked the courtroom and even some online on November 16 after ruling a rapist would not be jailed. Despite pleading guilty to raping three 16-year-olds and one 14-year-old, 20-year-old Christopher Belter was spared jail and was instead given eight years probation.
The shocking verdict comes at a time when judges are in the limelight and many important cases are being heard across the country. Judge Bruce Schroeder in Kenosha is currently making waves after many pundits and social media users accused him of favoring Kyle Rittenhouse during his trial. In August Cook County Judge James Shapiro turned heads when he stripped of parental rights from a mother for refusing to be vaccinated.
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Now, the newest topic of conversation for his controversial stance on the Belter case is Judge Murphy. Belter reportedly raped the four girls on four separate occasions between February 2017 and August 2018. Each time the girls were visitors to his home in an affluent area of Lewiston near Niagara Falls. An attorney for one of the victims believes Belter’s family fortune caused the verdict.
“Detention or partial detention is not appropriate”
Belter’s conviction came on November 16, when the judge made the controversial decision. After saying that he was “agonized” about the case, the judge said, “I am not ashamed to say that I actually prayed for the appropriate verdict on this case because there was great pain. There was great damage. There were several crimes committed in the case. “Belter faced a variety of charges, including third-degree rape and first-degree attempted sexual abuse charges and two second-degree sexual abuse charges.
The judge then continued, “It seems to me that a sentence that includes imprisonment or partial incarceration is not appropriate, so I am going to give you a suspended sentence.” He said the eight-year suspended sentence was “like a sword hanging over your head” but did not elaborate on it. As a registered Democrat, Murphy has had a productive career as a lawyer, with stints in the Justice Department and private practice. Prior to becoming a judge, he served as both a district attorney and senior attorney, and is known as the senior district attorney in Niagra County.
Belter faced a maximum of eight years in prison, but were spared every eight years according to Murphy’s shocking verdict. It was not so well received by the victims. Steven Cohen, an attorney for one of them, told the Washington Post, “No justice has been done here.” He added, “If Chris Belter weren’t a white defendant from a wealthy and influential family, in my experience he would certainly have been sentenced to prison.”
Verdict despite suspended sentence
The verdict comes after charges that have already been toned down following a plea deal made by Belter. In 2018, he was initially charged with first degree rape, third degree rape, and sexual abuse, but managed to reach a deal that introduced him to third degree rape and attempted first degree sexual abuse. A previous judge allowed Belter to seek juvenile offender status in his conviction, which Murphy has since overturned. “When Judge Murphy denied juvenile offender status, it was assumed that Chris Belter would receive jail time,” Cohen said.
The fact that Belter allegedly violated his probation requirements adds more fuel to the fire. When he was first charged, Judge Sara Sheldon placed him on a two-year suspended sentence, including a ban on viewing pornography. In October, Belter admitted in court that he had software installed on his computer to watch porn, which Judge Sheldon admitted it was likely to happen.
“The defendant’s repeated violations of Judge Sheldon’s parole had absolutely no consequence,” added Cohen. He will now have to return to court on December 3rd to determine what level he will be classified as a sex offender. Then he has to register with the state as a sex offender. Belter’s mother, Tricia Vacanti, stepfather Gary Sullo and a friend of the family Jessica M. Long were also charged with caring for the children, allegations of which she pleaded not guilty.
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