Christopher Belter was facing eight years behind bars after pleading guilty in 2019 to rape and sexual abuse involving four teen girls at his family's mansion in Western New York. Instead, a Niagara County judge this week gave the 20-year-old eight years of probation, stunning everyone in the courtroom, including his victims and their legal advisers. Incarceration "isn't appropriate," Judge Matthew Murphy said during Tuesday's hearing, per CBS News. "I agonized. I'm not ashamed to say that I actually prayed over what is the appropriate sentence in this case, because there was great pain."
According to court documents, the attacks against the three 16-year-old girls and one 15-year-old took place over an 18-month period starting in February 2017 at Belter's home in Lewiston, a well-to-do town not far from Niagara Falls. At the time, Belter was a rugby player at an elite private high school in Buffalo, and his residence was "known as a party house where teens gathered to consume liquor, marijuana, and Adderall," the New York Times reports. One of his victims "focused her attention on the leaves of the plant as she cried" while Belter raped her and "told her to stop being such a baby," Murphy wrote in his ruling, per the Washington Post.
Belter's mother, stepfather, and an adult family friend have also since been charged with supplying minors with alcohol and pot and have pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of child endangerment and unlawfully dealing with a child. Belter's victims were shocked to hear Murphy's ruling on Tuesday. "It was as if I was being victimized all over again," one young woman, known only as MM, tells CBS, adding she fears he'll attack someone again. "Justice was not done here," MM's attorney, Steven Cohen, told reporters after Murphy announced his decision, adding that had Belter not come from a wealthy family, he likely would've received jail time.
"The consequences for his actions should have been state prison," agreed Niagara County DA Brian Seaman, per the Times. For his part, Belter—who pleaded guilty two years ago to third-degree rape, attempted sexual abuse, and two misdemeanors, down from more serious charges, per court records—told the court he felt "deep shame and regret" for what he'd done, and that "a scar will remain that will serve as a reminder of the evil of that night," per WKBW. Belter will head back to court on Dec. 3 so his sex offender level can be determined, per Cohen. (Read more rape stories.)