(AP) A respected 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.
The trial put a spotlight on the ultra-orthodox community in Brooklyn and its strict rules that govern clothing, social customs and interaction with the outside world. Both Weberman, 54, and the accuser belonged to the Satmar Hasidic sect.
The teen and her family have been harassed and ostracized, reflecting long-held beliefs that any conflict must be dealt with from within. During the trial, men were arrested on charges they tried to bribe the accuser and her now-husband to drop the case. Others were accused of snapping photos of her on the witness stand and posting them online.
I clearly remember how I would look in the mirror. 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 of the gruesome invasion that had been done to her body, the accuser told the court during the sentencing.
She said she was a sad girl who wanted to live a normal life but instead was being victimized by a 50-year-old man who forced her to perform sickening acts again and again.
She 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.
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.
Her school had ordered her to see Weberman because she had been asking questions about her religion and was dressing immodestly in violation of the sect's customs, and it was believed she needed to be helped back on the right path. Weberman wasn't a licensed counselor but spent decades working with couples and families in his community.
There was no physical evidence of abuse.
The court received dozens of letters from supporters of the defendant who described his life in the community as a counselor and a father.
Nechemya Weberman is innocent of the crimes charged, defense attorney George Farkas insisted at the sentencing.
Weberman said no thank you when asked if he wished to speak. He and his wife had no visible reaction to the sentence. The top charge carried a sentence of 25 years; he got consecutive terms for some of the other charges.
The defense argued that the girl was angry that Weberman had told her parents she had a boyfriend at age 15, forbidden in her community. Attorney Stacey Richman said the case boiled down to a simple he said, she said, and the girl was a petulant, calculating liar.
The only evidence in this case of sexual abuse is the word of the accuser, Richman told jurors. She's making things up in front of you as they occur.
But the jury took just hours in December to convict Weberman on all counts.
Brooklyn is home to the largest community of ultra-orthodox Jews outside Israel, more than 250,000, and the Satmar sect is one faction clustered mostly in the Williamsburg neighborhood. The group has its own ambulances, volunteer police and rabbinical courts, and they are discouraged from going to secular authorities.
Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes said he hoped the case would persuade other victims to come forward. Hynes has been accused of overlooking crimes in the community because he was too cozy with powerful rabbis, a charge he vehemently denies.