Ultra-orthodox Jewish counselor Nechemya Weberman has been convicted on multiple charges of sexual abuse stemming from his time as a religious counselor.
Weberman looked down and the court room was silent while the foreman read the verdict aloud, saying that jurors found the former counselor guilty on 59 counts, including sustained sex abuse of a child, endangering the welfare of a child, and sexual abuse, reports The Huffington Post.
Nechemya will likely face 25 years on the top charge alone and may get more time during his sentencing hearing on January 9. The 49-year-old Jewish counselor briefly looked back at his family as he was handcuffed and lead away from the courtroom.
His family held hands, while some of the accusers’ supporters smiled. Defense lawyers stated that the jurors did not properly grasp the complicated issues and that they plan to appeal the verdict. Attorney George Franks stated:
“We firmly believe that the jury got an unfairly sanitized version of the facts. As a result, the truth did not come out and the struggle continues in full force to free this innocent man.”
The New York Daily News notes that the victim in the case cried tears of joy when she found out that Nechemya Weberman was convicted. The young woman, who just turned 18 this month, stated:
“I can’t wait until he is in prison. And someone holds him down and for once in his life, he can feel helpless. I honestly believe that God is my witness, and he stands up for me. I was nervous, I was reliving trauma. But I was sure he was going down.”
Many in the Satmar community have been angered by the fact that the trial was held in what they consider an “unreliable” secular court system, instead of being held in secret rabbinical court proceedings — especially because Nechemya is held in such high regard within the community.
The victim told authorities in February 2011 that she was repeatedly sexually abused by the Hasidic counselor beginning when she was 12 in 2007. She was originally put in Weberman’s care because she asked probing questions about her faith, dressed immodestly, and showed an interest in boys.
The girl testified for four days about the abuse wrought on her by Weberman, saying that the defendant would force her to perform oral sex, take off her clothes, and re-enact scenes from porn films. She stated that she didn’t know what to do, because he was a well-respected man in the community, while she was “a piece of dirt.” She added:
“My body just froze. I didn’t know how to respond. I just felt I wanted to die.”
The girl testified that she was called a traitor by her community for going to outside authorities. Her father lost her job and her nieces were kicked out of school, because she went to police. Three men have been charged with criminal contempt after they photographed her during the trial and posted it online. Other men were charged before the trial of trying to bribe the victim with $500,000 to get her to drop the charges against the Jewish counselor.
There is hope that the conviction of Nechemya Weberman will lead other victims to coming forward with their stories. There is at least one other suspected sexual abuse victim related to Weberman.