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.
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. School officials also said she was dressing immodestly in violation of customs, and Weberman was to help her get back on the right path. He wasn't a licensed counselor but for decades had worked 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."
The woman 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.
"This message should go out to all victims of sexual abuse: Your cries will be heard. Justice will be done," the judge said.
"Nechemya Weberman is innocent of the crimes charged," defense attorney George Farkas insisted at the sentencing. They said they would appeal immediately. "He stands ready to be vindicated."