Rapist Christopher Belter will NOT go to jail! Judge Matthew Murphy slammed for decision

Judge sentences Christopher Belter to eight years probation for rape of teens, defendant's attorney says 'justice not done'


                            Rapist Christopher Belter will NOT go to jail! Judge Matthew Murphy slammed for decision
A judge's gavel (Joe Readle/Getty Images) with an insert of Christopher Belter (Niagra County Sheriff's Office)

NIAGARA COUNTY, NEW YORK: Niagara County Court Judge Matthew Murphy shocked the courtroom, and indeed even some online on November 16, after ruling a rapist wouldn't 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 instead sentenced to eight years of probation. 

The shocking verdict comes at a time when judges are under the spotlight, with many major cases being heard around the country. Judge Bruce Schroeder in Kenosha is currently making waves after many experts 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 a mother of her parental rights for refusing to get vaccinated.

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Now, Judge Murphy has become the latest topic of conversation, for his controversial take on the Belter case. Reportedly, Belter raped the four girls on four separate occasions between February 2017 and August 2018. Each of the times, the girls were visitors to his home in a wealthy neighborhood of Lewiston, near the Niagara Falls. An attorney for one of the victims believes Belter's family wealth is the reason for the verdict.

'Incarceration or partial incarceration isn’t appropriate'

Sentencing for Belter occurred on November 16, where the judge made the controversial decision. After saying he "agonized" over the case, the judge said, "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." Belter was facing a large number of charges, including felony charges of third-degree rape and attempted first-degree sexual abuse and two misdemeanor charges of second-degree sexual abuse.

The judge then went on to say, "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." He said the eight-year probation sentence would be "like a sword hanging over your head," but did not elaborate any further. A registered Democrat, Murphy has had a prolific career in law, with stints at the Department of Justice and private practice. Prior to becoming a judge, he has served as both DA and Chief Attorney and is known for being Niagra County's longest-serving DA.

Belter faced a maximum of eight years in prison but was spared all eight after Murphy's shocking verdict. It hasn't gone down too well with the victims. Steven Cohen, an attorney for one of them told The Washington Post, "Justice was not done here." He added, "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."

Verdict despite violation of probation

The verdict comes after already watered-down charges, following a plea deal Belter struck. In 2018, he was initially charged with first-degree rape, third-degree rape, and sexual abuse, but managed to get a deal that would see him charged with third-degree rape and attempted first-degree sexual abuse. A previous judge allowed Belter to apply for youthful offender status in his sentencing, which was since revoked by Murphy. "The assumption when Judge Murphy denied youthful offender status was that Chris Belter would receive prison time," Cohen said. 

Adding more fuel to the fire is the fact that Belter reportedly violated the terms of his probation. When he was first charged, Judge Sara Sheldon placed him on an interim two-year probation, which included amongst other things a ban on watching pornography. In October, Belter acknowledged in court that he installed software on his computer to watch porn, something Judge Sheldon acknowledged was likely to happen. 

"There were absolutely no consequences for the defendant’s repeated violations of Judge Sheldon’s terms of probation," Cohen added. He is now due back in court on December 3 to determine what level of sex offender he will be classified as, following which he will have to register with the state as a sex offender. Belter's mother Tricia Vacanti, stepfather Gary Sullo, and a family friend Jessica M. Long have also been charged for grooming the children, allegations to which they have pleaded not guilty.

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