NEW YORK (AP) — A religious counselor in New York's ultra-orthodox Jewish community was convicted Monday of the sustained sexual abuse of a girl who came to him with questions about her faith.
The courtroom was silent as Nechemya Weberman was convicted of 59 counts, including sustained sex abuse of a child, endangering the welfare of a child and other counts. He faces 25 years in prison on the top charge and two to seven years on the lesser charges.
The 54-year-old defendant and his relatives stared down at the ground as the verdict was pronounced. Some of the accusers' supporters smiled quietly.
The accuser, now 18, told authorities Weberman abused her repeatedly from the time she was 12 until she was 15.
Defense lawyers said the jurors, who deliberated about half a day, did not properly grasp the complicated issues.
"We firmly believe that the jury got an unfairly sanitized version of the facts," said attorney George Farkas. "As a result, the truth did not come out and the struggle continues in full force to free this innocent man."
The case was a crash course for jurors about the customs and rules in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, home to about 250,000, the largest community outside Israel. It spotlighted the strict rules that govern the Satmar Hasidic sect.
Weberman is not a licensed counselor, but worked with families within his community for decades. The girl was sent to him because she had been questioning her faith, was dressing immodestly and showing an interest in boys, all violations of the sect's rules.
Prosecutors say Weberman molested the girl for years behind a locked office door. Defense attorneys argued the counselor was the victim of a vindictive child who was angry that he had betrayed her trust when he went to her parents after learning she had a boyfriend.
"When she found out that she had been betrayed, she went wild," defense attorney Stacey Richman said. Continued...