Judge Matthew J. Murphy III says he agonized over the sentence he imposed on a rapist Tuesday. He wasn’t ashamed, he said, to admit that he “actually prayed” over what to do.
He shouldn’t be ashamed of that. What he should be ashamed of is the decision he reached: eight years of probation for Christopher J. Belter, who sexually assaulted four girls, aged 15 and 16, in his Lewiston house.
Murphy, acting more like an advocate than a judge, decided that prison would be somehow “inappropriate” for Belter who originally faced charges that included first-degree rape. The 20-year-old felon committed his crimes when he under 18 but was sentenced as an adult offender. What adult gets a few years of probation for serial sex assaults against teenage girls?
Perhaps Murphy bought the Oscar-worthy performance of Belter’s lawyer who argued that his client was “tremendously remorseful for what he’s done.” Said Barry N. Covert: “There are clients who are never able to empathize with their victims no matter how much counseling they receive. Chris isn’t one of them.”
OK. And … ?
Even if you take the claim of remorse at face value, defendants who are truly regretful about terrible crimes understand that society demands a commensurate penalty. They are willing to take their punishment.
Instead, Belter and his family allowed Covert to make a pathetic argument that Murphy swallowed, concluding that Belter’s probation would be “like a sword hanging over your head for the next eight years.” That was sufficient in this judge’s eyes.
It seems much more likely that Murphy was impressed by other factors. As one victim’s disgusted lawyer observed after the sentence was pronounced, Belter “is privileged, he comes from money, he is white.” Does anyone remember any poor, Black defendants being treated so kindly for serial sexual abuse?
It’s true, of course, that sentences vary. That’s because evidence also varies. A weak case might well produce a plea offer for less time than a strong case would permit. This case was strong. Belter admitted his crimes, though he pleaded to lesser counts, including felonies of third-degree rape and attempted first-degree sexual abuse, as well as two misdemeanors of second-degree sexual abuse.
Here’s how one victim testified earlier this year about the “abuse” to which Belter subjected her: “He told me if I stopped resisting, it wouldn’t hurt as bad,” she told the court. She said she remembered “a green plant I studied in the corner of (the defendant’s) bedroom as he raped me.”
Murphy said he was impressed with that painful disclosure, but not as much as he was with subsequent reports that his victim’s suffering made Belter feel bad about himself. So give him a star. But send him to prison where he belongs.
There’s no doubt that this is a troubled young man. Reports are that he’d been watching porn since age 7 and that he “grew up in an environment where there weren’t consequence for behaviors that probably should have been consequences.”
We’ll presume for the moment that that’s true; adults in that house face their own criminal charges for enabling Belter’s sexual assaults. But that doesn’t excuse him of liability for criminal violence. Yet, here comes Murphy, the latest in a line of adults to relieve this violent criminal of the consequences of his actions.
Murphy isn’t the first judge to value the prospects of promising young rapists over the suffering of their victims. In New Jersey three years ago, a judge declined to try a 16-year-old rape suspect as an adult, even though the defendant recorded his assault of an intoxicated 16-year-old girl. The boy, he explained, came from a “good family” and “his scores for college entry were very high.” Judge James Troiano later resigned over his perverse remarks. Other judges have expressed similar solidarity with young rapists.
Nor is this the first time Murphy bent over backward for Belter. Earlier this year, in considering how to respond to a previous violation of his probation, Murphy prohibited the media from using Belter’s name, even though it had already been reported and could easily be found on internet searches. What is it with him and Belter?
At a minimum, this is a judge without judgment — at least not in this case, which comes as Murphy reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70. He’ll be gone after Dec. 31.
Don’t let the door hit you.
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