BY DYLAN SKRILOFF
Shaul Spitzer, the 18-year-old who lit fellow New Square resident Aron Rottenberg on fire last year, has plead guilty to first degree assault, a class A felony, and will face seven years in state prison
On Tuesday, Spitzer told Supreme Court Justice William Kelly that he knew he erred and “must be punished” but asked for mercy, vowing to never again behave in such a manner.
Kelly decided to give Spitzer seven years instead of the 10 years recommended by District Attorney Tom Zugibe because he said he believed in Spitzer’s contrition.
Spitzer had said he never intended to harm Rottenberg and only to start a fire on his deck that would convince him to leave New Square, where he had become detested by the community’s rabbinical leadership. Kelly said he was not totally buying this part of his argument because at 4 a.m. when the crime occurred a fire could potentially kill everyone in the house.
Kelly repeated several times that Spitzer was lucky he was not receiving a far harsher sentence and he credited his attorney Kenneth Gribetz for successfully portraying the human side of his case and making him appear like a vulnerable boy instead of a callous criminal.
Gribetz told the Rockland County Times the case is closed and he credited Kelly for being fair in his ruling. Gribetz, who appeared quite emotional during his arguments, said he has great compassion for both Mr. Rottenberg and his client.
Rottenberg had been a dissident within the New Square community and came under repudiation of religious leaders for praying outside the community’s synagogue. Months of harassment toward reached a climax when Spitzer trespassed on his property equipped with gasoline and a lighter.
Instead of getting a chance to light his supposed “warning fire” Spitzer was confronted by Rottenberg and in the altercation that ensued both men were lit on fire with Rottenberg receiving the worst of it. Spitzer was originally charged with attempted murder, however DA Zugibe said that the plea to first degree assault is also a Class A felony and legally speaking equally serious as attempted murder.