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Rapist Sentenced To Probation Only, Violates Probation, Resentenced To More Probation

Niagara County, NY – A rapist who violated probation after being convicted of sexually assaulting four teenage girls was given more probation time on Tuesday instead of being sentenced to prison.

Christopher Belter, 20, will not face any time in jail in connection with the slew of rape and sexual assault charges levied against him, The Washington Post reported.

Belter already got a break when a prior judge, Sara Sheldon, sentenced him to two years of interim probation in 2019.

Belter, who was 17 at the time, was originally charged with third-degree rape, sexual abuse, and first-degree rape, but scored a plea agreement for lesser felony charges of attempted first-degree sexual abuse and third-degree rape, The Washington Post reported.

In addition to the probation sentence, Sheldon gave Belter the opportunity to apply for youthful offender status, which could have lessened the potential maximum even further while also potentially excusing him from having to register as a sexual offender.

Sheldon acknowledged at the time that Belter would likely fail to abide by his probation conditions, The Washington Post reported.

As predicted, Belter recently acknowledged he violated the terms of his sentence by installing software on his computer so he could watch pornography.

According to his probation officer, Belter said he first began watching pornography at the age of seven.

The court further noted the convicted rapist had “recently been treated with medication to lessen his libido,” The Washington Post reported.

Belter has already been in sex offender treatment counseling for two years, according to WKBW.

Some of his victims were present in the courtroom when Niagara County Judge Matthew Murphy handed down the eight-year probation sentence on Tuesday, WKBW reported.

Murphy had the option of sentencing Belter to a maximum of eight years in prison.

Murphy said he “agonized” over the decision, but that he ultimately concluded sending the convicted rapist to prison would be “inappropriate.”

The did not elaborate on why he made the decision to put Belter back on probation – especially considering he already violated his last shot at probation.

“I’m not ashamed to say that I actually prayed over what is the appropriate sentence in this case. Because there was great pain. There was great harm — There were multiple crimes committed in the case,” Murphy said during the hearing, according to WKBW. “It seems to me that a sentence that involves incarceration or partial incarceration isn’t appropriate, so I am going to sentence you to probation.”

“It’s going to be like a sword hanging over your head for the next eight years,” the judge warned, despite the lack of repercussions Belter has faced since violating his prior probation term.

Belter told his victims during the hearing that he now feels “deep shame and regret” for what he did to them, WKBW reported.

“Through treatment and reflection, I’ve come to feel deep shame and regret for my actions none of you deserved to be in this situation,” he said. “I hope each of you could close that wound I gashed…I know though, that a scar will remain that will serve as a reminder of the evil of that night.”

Steve Cohen, an attorney representing one of the victims, said he was “deeply, deeply disappointed” by Murphy’s ruling and declared Belter has faced “zero consequences” for violating his initial probation sentence, WKBW reported.

“He is privileged. He comes from money. He is white. He was sentenced as an adult, appropriately — for an adult to get away with these crimes is unjust,” Cohen said. “Justice was not done today.”

The attorney told reporters he needed to excuse himself because his client was “in the bathroom throwing up” after learning her rapist will be out walking the streets yet again, WKBW reported.

Belter’s attorney, Barry Covert, praised his client for how sorry he is for raping and assaulting the four girls.

“He is tremendously remorseful for what he’s done,” Covert told reporters as he and Belter were leaving the courtroom, according to The Buffalo News. “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.”

According to court records, the rapes occurred at Belter’s family’s home in one of the most affluent areas of Lewiston, The Buffalo News reported.

Teens commonly referred to the residence as the “party house,” according to the paper.

The sexual assaults occurred in 2017 and 2018 and involved for separate incidents.

Three of the female victims were 16 years old when the incidents occurred, and one was 15 years old, The Buffalo News reported.

New York State Police (NYSP) said Belter’s mother, 50-year-old Tricia Vacanti, his 56-year-old stepfather, Gary Sullo, and 42-year-old family friend Jessica Long gave the girls marijuana and alcohol during the parties in order to help groom them to be raped by Belter.

Vacanti, Sullo, and Long are currently facing charges of unlawfully dealing with a child and child endangerment, The Buffalo News reported.

Murphy noted that one of the victims told the court about being raped by Belter.

The judge said the victim “spoke about a plant…in the Defendant’s room that she focused on as he was raping her. During the rape, he told her to stop being such a baby. She focused her attention on the leaves of the plant as she cried during the attack. The Defendant told her that, if she stopped resisting, it wouldn’t hurt as much,” The Buffalo News reported.

Belter said on Tuesday that the victim’s testimony gave him “a glimpse of the pain” he has caused.

“I manipulated your trust to steal something from you,” he admitted during the hearing, according to The Buffalo News.

Belter is due to appear in court again on Dec. 2 to determine whether he will be required to register as a Level 1, 2, or 3 sex offender.

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

View all articles
Written by Holly Matkin

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