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Man, 20, who raped four teens didn’t get jail time because ‘he’s white,’ prosecutor says

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Niagara County Court Judge Matthew J. Murphy III told Christopher Belter, 20, (pictured) - who previously pleaded guilty to felony charges of rape and of sexual abuse in 2019 - on Tuesday that prison time would be 'inappropriate'

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Niagara County Court Judge Matthew J. Murphy III told Christopher Belter, 20, (pictured) – who previously pleaded guilty to felony charges of rape and of sexual abuse in 2019 – on Tuesday that prison time would be ‘inappropriate’

Stunned victims and onlookers broke down in tears, with some even vomiting, when a 20-year-old New York State man who pleaded guilty to raping four teenage girls in his parents’ home was sentenced to just eight years probation by an elderly judge set to retire next month, for his heinous crimes. 

The case is even more shocking because convicted Christopher Belter’s parents are facing charges they groomed their son’s victims by plying them with alcohol and marijuana.

‘If Chris Belter was not a white defendant from a rich and influential family, it is my belief… he would surely have been sentenced to prison,’ prosecuting attorney Steven Cohen said of the decision. 

Niagara County Court Judge Matthew J. Murphy III, 69, told Belter on Tuesday that prison time would be ‘inappropriate’ and instead ordered him to register as a sex offender.

Belter had pleaded guilty to felony charges including third-degree rape and attempted first-degree sexual abuse, and two misdemeanor charges of second-degree sexual abuse.

But the Niagara County judge decided against a prison sentence. Belter could have been facing up to eight years in prison for his crimes. Prosecutors do not have the ability to appeal Murphy’s decision.

Belter assaulted his four victims between February 2017 and August 2018, with three aged 16 and one aged 15 at the time of the assaults at his family’s ‘party house’ in a wealthy Lewiston neighborhood, just a few miles from Niagara Falls.

State police claim that Belter’s mother and real estate lawyer Tricia Vacanti, 50; his stepfather Gary Sullo, 56, and a family friend Jessica M. Long, 42, allegedly groomed the four victims by supplying alcohol and marijuana.

One of Belter’s victims was heard crying as the judge read out his verdict Tuesday, while Steven Cohen, representing one of the victims, told DailyMail.com that his client threw up after the decision.  

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Christopher Belter (center in black face mask) had pleaded guilty to felony charges including third-degree rape and attempted first-degree sexual abuse, and two misdemeanor charges of second-degree sexual abuse

 Christopher Belter (center in black face mask) had pleaded guilty to felony charges including third-degree rape and attempted first-degree sexual abuse, and two misdemeanor charges of second-degree sexual abuse

Belter's mother Tricia Vacanti, 50

Belter's stepfather, stepfather Gary Sullo, 56

Belter’s mother Tricia Vacanti, 50, stepfather Gary Sullo, 56, face 30 criminal counts in connection to the alcohol and drug-fueled parties at their home

Belter is seen being led into the court room ahead of his sentencing. One of Belter's victims was heard crying as the judge read out his verdict, while Steven Cohen, representing another of the victims, reportedly said his client threw up after the decision

Belter is seen being led into the court room ahead of his sentencing. One of Belter’s victims was heard crying as the judge read out his verdict, while Steven Cohen, representing another of the victims, reportedly said his client threw up after the decision

Belter assaulted his four victims between February 2017 and August 2018, with three aged 16 and one aged 15 at the time of the assaults at his family's 'party house' in a wealthy Lewiston neighborhood, just a few miles from Niagara Falls

Belter assaulted his four victims between February 2017 and August 2018, with three aged 16 and one aged 15 at the time of the assaults at his family’s ‘party house’ in a wealthy Lewiston neighborhood, just a few miles from Niagara Falls

Judge Murphy told Belter that his eight-year probation would ‘be like a sword hanging over your head for the next eight years.’

‘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,’ Murphy told the shocked court room.

‘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 – who will retire next month – did not offer any further explanation for his decision not impose jail time on Belter.

Only overseeing criminal cases in Niagara County since 2016, Murphy has not ruled on cases of this magnitude in the past. He currently works as a judge for the County and Surrogate’s courts in Niagara County, New York, having been elected to the role in 2007. In addition, Murphy serves as a part-time State Supreme Court justice, handling part of the county’s civil litigation calendar. 

He also handles cases involving wills and estates, as well as Niagara county’s pistol permit hearings. He was later re-elected in 2017 as a judge for the Niagara County Court system after running for the position unopposed.

Due to his age, Murphy will only be able to serve a few more weeks as an elected judge before he reaches New York State’s mandatory judicial retirement age of 70 next month in December. 

When giving his verdict on Tuesday, Judge Murphy (pictured) said he ‘agonized’ over the case before deciding to hand Belter eight years of probation

Before receiving his sentence, Belter (pictured in court) said that he felt 'deep shame and regret' for his actions

Before receiving his sentence, Belter (pictured in court) said that he felt ‘deep shame and regret’ for his actions 

Belter told the court: 'I hope each of you could close that wound I gashed. I know, though, that a scar will remain that will serve as a reminder of the evil of that night'

Belter told the court: ‘I hope each of you could close that wound I gashed. I know, though, that a scar will remain that will serve as a reminder of the evil of that night’

Cohen, litigation chair at Amherst-based legal firm Hogan Willig, PLLC, revealed to DailyMail.com Thursday that his client threw up after the contentious decision.

Family friend Jessica M. Long, 42, has pleaded not guilty to charges of child endangerment and unlawfully dealing with a child

Family friend Jessica M. Long, 42, has pleaded not guilty to charges of child endangerment and unlawfully dealing with a child

‘The greater harm, however,’ the attorney then added, ‘is that the sentencing in this matter would seem to perpetuate the insane belief that rape is not a serious crime and that its occurrence results in little consequence to the perpetrator. 

‘Our society needs to do much better.’

Belter’s mother, stepfather and a family friend have all pleaded not guilty to charges of child endangerment and unlawfully dealing with a child. The three adults are still due to go on trial.

Vacanti, his mother, allegedly smoked marijuana with the teenage victims and supplied them with Jello shots.

She, along with Sullo, face 30 criminal counts in connection to the alcohol and drug-fueled parties at their home. Long faces single counts on her charges.    

Belter's mother Tricia Vacanti, 50, stepfather Gary Sullo, 56, face 30 criminal counts in connection to the alcohol and drug-fueled parties at their home. They also face 22 counts of child endangerment and unlawfully dealing with a child. Both have pleaded not guilty

Belter’s mother Tricia Vacanti, 50, stepfather Gary Sullo, 56, face 30 criminal counts in connection to the alcohol and drug-fueled parties at their home. They also face 22 counts of child endangerment and unlawfully dealing with a child. Both have pleaded not guilty

Belter assaulted his four victims between February 2017 and August 2018, with three aged 16 and one aged 15 at the time of the assaults, at his family's 'party house' (pictured) in a wealthy Lewiston neighborhood

Belter assaulted his four victims between February 2017 and August 2018, with three aged 16 and one aged 15 at the time of the assaults, at his family’s ‘party house’ (pictured) in a wealthy Lewiston neighborhood

At the time of his plea, Belter was placed on two years’ interim probation by Judge Sarah Sheldon – who has since retired – which allowed him the opportunity to apply for youth offender status.

This would have lessened any potential prison sentence he could have received and prevented him from having to register on the sex offender’s list.

However, Belter revealed in court last month that he broke the terms of this interim probation by installing software on his computer to watch pornography.

Per the Buffalo News, Belter then told his probation officer that he had been watching pornography since he was seven years old. 

During the case, the fourth victim gave a statement describing the assault on her, commenting on which Judge Murphy said: ‘He told her to stop being such a baby… The Defendant told her that, if she stopped resisting, it wouldn’t hurt as much.’

Prior to sentencing, WKBW reports that Belter addressed the courtroom to reveal his ‘deep shame and regret’ for his actions.

He said: ‘I hope each of you could close that wound I gashed. I know, though, that a scar will remain that will serve as a reminder of the evil of that night.’

Belter will appear in court again on December 3 so that a ruling can be made on what level of sex offender he will be classified as. 

Vacanti, a lawyer, allegedly smoked marijuana with the teenage victims and supplied them with jello shots. She, along with Sullo face 30 criminal counts in connection to the alcohol and drug-fueld parties at their home. Long faces single counts on her charges

Vacanti, a lawyer, allegedly smoked marijuana with the teenage victims and supplied them with jello shots. She, along with Sullo face 30 criminal counts in connection to the alcohol and drug-fueld parties at their home. Long faces single counts on her charges

How judge who refused to jail rapist helped create a domestic violence program and is due to retire next month

Only overseeing criminal cases in Niagara County since 2016, Judge Matthew J. Murphy III has not ruled on cases of this magnitude in the past.

He currently works as a judge for the County and Surrogate’s courts in Niagara County, New York, having been elected to the role in 2007.

In addition, Murphy, 69, serves as a part-time State Supreme Court justice, handling part of the county’s civil litigation calendar. 

He presides one afternoon per week over Integrated Domestic Violence Court and spends part of another day in Surrogate’s Court, handling cases involving wills and estates. 

He also handles the county’s pistol permit hearings. 

He was later re-elected in 2017 as a judge for the Niagara County Court system, after running for the position unopposed.

Due to his advanced age, Murphy will only be able to serve a few more weeks as an elected judge, before he reaches New York State’s mandatory judicial retirement age of 70 next month.

He previously worked as the Niagara County district attorney for 16 years and has also taught criminal and civil trial techniques at the Attorney General’s Advocacy Institute in Washington, D.C.

It was during this period as district attorney that Murphy also created a domestic violence program, which proved so successful that it became the model for the rest of New York.

The program was introduced in 1994 by Murphy after he grew concerned at the number of family murders taking place in Niagara County.

He gathered all of the stakeholders as well as researchers and professors from the Law School at State University of New York at Buffalo and together the put together a set of protocols for handling domestic violence cases.

These included the police, prosecutors, the courts, and social service agencies. 

In 2014, Murphy made the controversial decision to dismiss a marijuana possession indictment against two defendants.

Shateek Payne, Michael Payne and Joachim S. Sylvester were stopped by police officers while driving around in a $40,000 vehicle – a search was then conducted, during which seven pounds of marijuana, 27 oxymorphone pills, and a stack of counterfeit money were found.

Michael Payne died before he could appear before trial.

Murphy decided to throw out the case against the two remaining defendants, describing the stop made by officers as ‘racial profiling’ and was a case of ‘driving while black’.

He rejected the evidence presented by officers on the grounds that he found the stopping of the vehicle to be improper.

Next month, Murphy will turn 70 – the age at which New York’s mandatory retirement age for judges takes effect.