Shaul Spitzer convinced Judge William Kelly Tuesday to give him youthful offender status and release him after serving 3 1/2 years in prison for seriously burning a New Square dissident while trying to torch the man's house in 2011.
Kelly told the packed courtroom — including more than 40 New Square supporters and victim Aron Rottenberg that he started the day thinking he would deny Spitzer early release from a seven-year prison term.
But Kelly said he thought over what Spitzer had told him in court Tuesday morning and changed his mind during the lunch break in the resentencing proceedings.
Kelly said he came away convinced that prison life had matured Spitzer and his attack on the Rottenberg family spurred from immaturity, being naive and a bid to impress the New Square Hasidic Jewish leadership and grand rabbi David Twersky. Spitzer was working and living in Twersky's home as a butler at the time.
The judge's decision brought smiles and cheers from Spitzer's supporters, as his lawyers hugged and he beamed. Outside the courtroom, his supporters walked down the hallway loudly happily announcing the decision to people over cell phones.
Spitzer admitted at his original sentencing that he tried to burn down Rottenberg's Truman Avenue house at 4:22 a.m. May 22, 2011, because Rottenberg refused to follow Twersky's rules. Spitzer denied he acted on anyone's behalf. When Rottenberg confronted Spitzer, the teen's firebomb exploded, burning Rottenberg across more than 50 percent of his body.
Before the attack, the Skver Hasidic leadership had targeted Rottenberg for refusing to pray in Twersky's synagogue. Residents protested outside his house and broke his property; the leadership kicked his daughter of school and ordered a boycott of his plumbing business.
The New Square Skver community eventually gave Rottenberg and his wife a more than $3 million settlement to cover Rottenberg's medical bills and buy his house on Truman Avenue.
Rottenberg asked Kelly on Tuesday to keep Spitzer in jail, saying he can't use his right arm effectively after skin grafts and other operations to treat his burns. He said his family, which was inside the home at the time, still suffers from the pain of the attack.
Aron Rottenberg speaks with Steve Lieberman at the West Nyack office of the Journal News Oct. 21, 2015. Rottenberg was injured in an arson attack at his home in New Square in 2011.
Inside the Court Room