LEWISTON, N.Y. (WKBW) — A former Lewiston man who pleaded guilty to rape and sex abuse in 2019 has been sentenced to eight years probation.
7 Eyewitness News was in the courtroom Tuesday when 20-year-old Christopher Belter received his sentence. Niagara County Judge Matthew Murphy sentenced Belter to eight years of probation and he must also register as a sex offender. He will face no jail time.
According to 7 Eyewitness News senior reporter Eileen Buckley, a survivor in the courtroom was clearly upset by the judge's decision.
“Through treatment and reflection, I’ve come to feel deep shame and regret for my actions none of you deserved to be in this situation,” stated Belter. “I hope each of you could close that wound I gashed.”
Belter addressed the court before his sentencing for the rape and sexual assault of four teenage girls.
“I know though, that a scar will remain that will serve as a reminder of the evil of that night,” Belter reading from his notes.
Some of his survivors were in the courtroom for his sentencing, learning he won't serve any time behind bars.
Judge Murphy decided prison time would be "inappropriate".
“I agonized — 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,” Judge Murphy explained. "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 judge issued a lengthy list of probation rules for Belter, who now lives in the City of Lockport. He also had a stern warning about following the rules.
"It's going to be like a sword hanging over your head for the next eight years," Judge Murphy remarked.
Belter must also registered as a sex offender. He returns to court December 2 for a Sex Offender Registration Act hearing where it will be decided whether is is a level one, two or three sex offender.
In 2018, when Belter was 17, he was charged with first degree rape, third degree rape and sexual abuse involving multiple 15- and 16-year-old girls at his Lewiston home.
In 2019, Belter pleaded guilty to two counts of second degree sex abuse, third degree attempted abuse and third degree rape. He received a sentence of two years interim probation. If he successfully completed probation he would be granted Youthful Offender status.
His probation involved the following restrictions:
- Remain in Niagara County
- Have employment or be a full-time student
- Live with parents
- Order of protection by victims
- No contact with anyone under 18
- No internet unless given permission by probation
- No overnight trips
- No visiting locations where minors are present unless probation agrees
- Random polygraph and drug tests
"I am deeply, deeply disappointed. I expected a different outcome today,” declared Steve Cohen, attorney. "Justice was not done today."
Cohen represents one of the survivors and is outraged with the sentence. Cohen says there were "zero consequences" for violating his previous probation.
“He is privileged. He comes from money. He is white. He was sentenced as an adult, appropriately — for an adult to get away with these crimes is unjust,” Cohen remarked.
Cohen noted how difficult it was for his client to hear Belter will not go to jail.
“I believe she’s in the bathroom throwing up, right now, excuse me," described Cohen before leaving the courthouse.
Before the sentencing, Belter's attorney, Barry Covert spoke about his client saying he was a remorseful young man.
"He is tremendously remorseful for what he has done," Covert stated.
During the sentencing, the prosecutor Peter Wydysh told the court calling the home where the attacks occurred a “party house” was a disservice to all the survivors.
“It was not a party house case judge; it was a house of sexual assault — that is what happened there — that is not something we should look past,” Wydsh stated.
In October, nearly two months from the start of sentencing, Judge Murphy ruled that Belter would be sentenced as an adult and denied Youthful Offender status. Judge Murphy said of Belter "we now know from his documented failure to to follow the rules imposed by the Court about abstinence from pornography that this defendant does not hesitate to ignore the rules when they compete with his own carnal appetites."
In his October decision the judge continued on to say "the defendant has made progress and perhaps if the defendant is continued on probation and sex offender counseling for another eight years, the risk to reoffend will be eliminated. But, in the meantime, the Defendant still posts an 'above average risk' to reoffend even after two years of counseling."