NEW YORK (AP) — An esteemed religious counselor in New York City's ultra-orthodox Jewish community was sentenced Tuesday to 103 years in prison for molesting a girl who came to him with questions about her faith.
Nechemya Weberman was convicted in December of 59 counts, including sustained sexual abuse of a child, endangering the welfare of a child and sexual abuse. He testified in his own defense, saying he "never, ever" abused the girl, and maintained his innocence at sentencing.
His trial put a spotlight on the ultra-orthodox community and its strict rules that govern clothing, social customs and interaction with the outside world. Brooklyn is home to the largest community of ultra-orthodox Jews outside Israel, more than 250,000. Both Weberman, 54, and the accuser belonged to the Satmar Hasidic sect there.
The girl's school had ordered her to see Weberman because she had been asking questions about her religion and was dressing immodestly in violation of customs, and he was help her get back on the right path. Weberman wasn't a licensed counselor but spent decades working with couples and families in his community.
The accuser, now 18, had testified that Weberman abused her repeatedly behind his locked office door from the time she was 12 until she was 15.
"I clearly remember how I would look in the mirror," she said at Tuesday's sentencing, her small voice shaking. "I saw a girl who didn't want to live in her own skin, ... a girl whose innocence was shattered, ... a girl who couldn't sleep at night because the horrifying images of the recent gruesome invasions which had been done to her body kept replaying in her head."
She said she was "sad girl who so badly wished she could have lived a normal young teenage life but instead was stuck being victimized by a 50-year-old man who forced her to experience and perform sickening acts for his sick sense of pleasure again and again."
She said she was speaking for many others who had been victimized by Weberman, but lacked the courage to come forward. Weberman hasn't been charged in any other molestation case.
But the girl expressed hope that by coming forward, she could give strength to other victims of sexual abuse. The Associated Press typically doesn't identify people who say they are the victims of sexual assault.
Her husband, Hershey Deutsch, spoke to reporters and TV news cameras outside court, recounting through tears how difficult it was to watch her struggle with coming forward.
"She definitely feels relief. She can sleep more tonight," he said.
Judge John Ingram praised the teen's courage, saying he also hoped it would set an example for other victims of sexual abuse.
"This message should go out to all victims of sexual abuse: Your cries will be heard. Justice will be done. You should report," the judge said.