A Hasidic Jewish teenager pleaded guilty to assault, for setting a neighbour on fire because he wasn’t praying with the rest of the community. (Daily Mail By JILL REILLY)
Shaul Spitzer, 18, of New Square, New York, had been accused of severely burning Aron Rottenberg, 43, with a firebomb outside Mr Rottenberg’s home in New Square, an insular Hasidic village of 7,000.
He pleaded guilty to assault in a New York court and faces up to 10 years in prison, although Judge William Kelly said he would likely receive a 5-year sentence.
Mr Rottenberg alleged that Twersky was angered because Rottenberg had stopped praying at his synagogue, disobeying a prayer order by the Grand Rebbe of the Hasidic enclave about 35 miles north of New York City.
Spitzer, who worked for Grand Rebbe David Twersky, admitted that he used a heavy duty propane lighter to set Rottenberg on fire in May 2011.
It happened after Mr Rottenberg confronted Spitzer when he thew a bag of burning shirts soaked in petrol on the porch of his home.
Mr Rottenberg suffered third-degree burns to more than 50 per cent of his body and prosecutor Stephen Moore said he spent more than a month in the hospital recovering.
Spitzer also had burns on his hands and arms.
‘We just both burst into flames,’ Mr Rottenberg said.
The family was sleeping inside, court documents said.
Mr Rottenberg claimed in a lawsuit that Spitzer was acting at the direction of the village’s Chief Rabbi, David Twersky.
He alleged that rabbi Twersky was angered because Mr Rottenberg had stopped praying at his synagogue.
The rabbi denied involvement, criticised the attack and was not charged.
Spitzer’s lawyers also said the rabbi was uninvolved their client acted alone.
Court documents said Mr Rottenberg’s family had received several threats and had their property vandalised for not praying in the community’s main synagogue.
Spitzer, who will be sentenced in April, entered his plea on the day jury selection was set to begin in the case said defence attorney Deborah Lowenberg.
Under the plea deal, charges of attempted murder and arson were dismissed.
Mr Rottenberg was in court and told the judge he consented to the plea deal.
Ms Lowenberg said sect leaders didn’t pressure Spitzer to accept the plea bargain to avoid a trial.
‘Mr. Spitzer took counsel only from the defense team,’ she said.
‘We understood the evidence was very strong against our client and explained to him that there was a significant risk of facing 25 years.
‘This way, he has the peace of mind of knowing the sentence won’t be more than 10 years,’ she added.
‘We hope to show the judge that a less severe sentence would be appropriate.’
Outside court, Spitzer’s attorney Kenneth Gribetz said his client had been trying to cause mischief, not to kill anyone.
‘This is a young boy who has no criminal intent,’ he said.
‘He’s not a criminal … He should be given a chance to get back on the right track.’
Rottenburg has a pending civil lawsuit against Spitzer and Rabbi Twersky stemming from the incident.
Gribetz said in court a settlement in the $2 million range was under discussion.
New Square is about 30 miles north of Manhattan.
Nearly all of its residents are members of the Skver Hasidic sect.
The sect and the village are named for the Ukrainian village of Skver, where its members were killed during the Holocaust.