Yesterday, Judge John G. Ingram handed Nechemya Weberman a 103-year sentence for his 59 counts of molesting a girl. Based on the impressions of experienced attorneys, I predicted 20-25 years. Even if the sentence is reduced on appeal to 45-50 years, as predicted by the District Attorney at his press conference, this is a life sentence. Even allowing for fifteen percent off for good behavior, 53-year-old Weberman will be in jail till he is ninety-one, or more likely, till the cheverah kadishah (burial society) comes to fetch him.
It didn’t have to end this way. Downtown Brooklyn’s courthouse is a discount center. Weberman could have pleaded guilty and gotten off with a five-year sentence. If he had taken the deal two years ago when he was first charged he could have walked out of jail three years from now. He could have spared the victim and her family pain, intimidation and major financial losses. But Weberman in his arrogance went for broke and ended up paying retail.
Even the retail price for pleading guilty didn’t have to be this high, but Weberman and his supporters angered the DA and the judge with tactics including bribery, intimidation, violations of courtroom decorum and absurdly dishonest witnesses on the stand. Weberman and Satmar tested the limits of chutzpah and came up short.
Is a 103 year sentence good for the fight against molesting? Yes and no. Yes because it sends a message to defendants that going to trial is risky so they should consider biting the bullet and pleading guilty. Yes, because it says to every victim, the legal system takes your charges and suffering seriously, very seriously. Yes, because it sends a message to Satmar and others like them that chutzpah toward the court system and witness intimidation can backfire and badly burn the perpetrators. Yes, because this verdict spread on the internet and Satmar’s reputation took a beating so bad that I believe it will affect the community when it comes to soliciting politicians for favors and funds. I think it will affect the financial value of Satmar hasgachos (kosher food certifications). Financial shock therapy may just send a message that they should have gotten from the Torah.
But there is a downside to this virtual life sentence. There are many in the ultra orthodox world who want molesters convicted and sentenced, but not for that long. This will make some of them hesitate about supporting the next victim who goes to the police. I don’t agree with that sentiment because the alternative is letting molesters roam free to leave a path of destruction in their wake.
I think more could be accomplished by giving one-year sentences to 103 molesters. But, for the moment, that is not likely. Every single conviction of an ultra orthodox molester is an uphill battle against intimidation and ignorance. So we will have to keep settling for long sentences in the very few rare cases where a victim has the fortitude and resources to resist bribes and intimidation. When the community changes we will have more plea bargains and more convictions. I look forward to the day when the community will work with victims to bring cases to the authorities. I look forward to the end of pidyon shvuyim (prisoner redemption) fund-raisers and prestigious rabbis who dare to call victims, whores.
I look forward to the day when the community takes child sex abuse seriously enough to prevent it, detect it, and pursue its prosecution in the courts. While we wait, and wait, for that development, I say, yes, a hundred-and-three-year sentence is good shock therapy which is the best available treatment.