By Colleen Long, AP
NEW YORK — A New York City store clerk who pleaded guilty to kidnapping, killing and dismembering a lost little boy was sentenced Wednesday to 40 years to life in prison. The crime shook one of the world’s largest communities of Orthodox Jews outside Israel.
Levi Aron had pleaded guilty this month to lesser charges in a deal that spared him a criminal trial and the possibility of life in prison without parole. When asked Wednesday if he wanted to speak, the 37-year-old whispered, “No.” He will be eligible for parole in 40 years.
Aron admitted he kidnapped and killed 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky after the boy approached him on a Brooklyn street in July 2011 and asked for directions. It was the first time he was allowed to walk home alone from a religious day camp. He was supposed to walk about seven blocks to meet his mother, but he missed his turn.
The boy was Hasidic, an insular, ultra-Orthodox version of Judaism. Aron, who lived nearby, was Orthodox but not Hasidic.
About 33 hours later, detectives found the boy’s severed feet, wrapped in plastic, in Aron’s freezer. A cutting board and three bloody carving knives were found in the refrigerator. The rest of the boy’s body was discovered in bags inside a suitcase in a trash bin near Aron’s apartment. His legs had been cut from his torso.
The medical examiner’s office said Leiby had been drugged then suffocated.
Aron was taken into custody, and an unnerving story emerged. Authorities said Aron promised to take Leiby home, but he didn’t. The following morning, Aron left for work, leaving Leiby alone.
Meanwhile, a massive search was conducted by the boy’s family and friends. When Aron noticed fliers plastered on lampposts with the boy’s photo, he says he panicked, went home and suffocated the boy and dismembered him.
Aron has said little during court appearances. His attorneys had planned to mount a defense that he was not guilty by reason of mental defect, bolstered by a reported obtained by The Associated Press that said Aron had an adjustment disorder and a personality disorder with schizoid features. “His mood is neutral, practically blank,” the psychologist wrote.
During his guilty plea two weeks ago, Aron spoke barely above a whisper. He expressed no remorse and only hinted at motive: At one point he told the judge he felt “panic” when he found out there was a frantic search on for the boy.
The judge asked him what he decided to do, and he responded simply, “Smother.”
Leiby’s family did not attend Wednesday’s sentencing. A prosecutor read a statement from his father, Nachman Kletzky, that said, “God did not abandon our son nor our family for one second.”