Man Who Pleaded Guilty to Raping Four Teenage Girls Receives No Jail Time

A New York man who pleaded guilty to the rape and sexual assault of four teenage girls at his parents' home has avoided jail.

Christopher Belter, 20, faced a maximum of eight years in prison after pleading guilty in 2019 to felony charges of rape and sexual abuse.

But on Tuesday, Niagara County Court Judge Matthew Murphy sentenced Belter to just eight years of probation, according to WKBW. He must also register as a sex offender.

Murphy told the courtroom he had "agonized" over how to sentence before ultimately deciding that prison time would be "inappropriate."

"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 said. "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."

Murphy also told Belter that the probationary sentence would be "a sword hanging over your head for the next eight years."

The ruling stunned the courtroom, with a reporter tweeting that one of Belter's victims was "clearly upset."

Steven Cohen, an attorney for one of the victims, told reporters that "justice was not done today." He later told The Washington Post that his client threw up after the sentence was handed down.

"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," Cohen told the newspaper.

The assaults on four girls, all aged 15 or 16 at the time, occurred in separate incidents at Belter's family home in an affluent neighborhood of Lewiston between February 2017 and August 2018.

Charges Against Family Members

State police say Belter's mother, stepfather and a family friend helped groom the victims with alcohol and marijuana. All three have pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of child endangerment and unlawfully dealing with a child.

Belter was initially charges with offenses that included first-degree rape, but he pleaded guilty in 2019 to lesser charges of third-degree rape and attempted first-degree sexual abuse. According to The Buffalo News, Judge Sara Sheldon, who has since retired, placed him on two years' interim probation to give him a chance to earn youthful offender status, which would have limited his maximum prison time and prevented him from having to register as a sex offender.

Sheldon predicted at the time that Belter would have difficult complying with the rules she imposed. He admitted last month that he had violated his probation by installing software on his computer that allowed him to view pornography, according to The News.

Murphy denied him youthful offender status and ruled that Belter would be sentenced as an adult last month. "The assumption when Judge Murphy denied youthful offender status was that Chris Belter would receive prison time," Cohen told The Post. "There were absolutely no consequences for the defendant's repeated violations of Judge Sheldon's terms of probation."

As they left court, Belter's attorney Barry Covert said said his client was "tremendously remorseful."

Regret for His Crimes

Belter also expressed regret for his crimes in a statement before his sentencing. "Through treatment and reflection, I've come to feel deep shame and regret for my actions," Belter said, according to WKBW.

He addressed his victims, telling them: "None of you deserved to be in this situation. 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 and Covert have been contacted for additional comment.

judge stock photo
A file photo of a judge's gavel and block. A New York man avoided jail after pleading guilty to the rape and sexual assault of four teenage girls. iStock