Levi Aron was sentenced last Wednesday (Aug. 29) to 40 years to life in prison for the murder of eight-year-old Boro Park resident Leiby Kletzky. Aron, dubbed by media the “Butcher of Brooklyn,” was sentenced a year later for a crime that rocked a city and devastated the Jewish community in particular. It had been one of the most horrific crimes to hit Brooklyn for years.
On July 11, 2011 LeibyKletzky, a Chasidic Jewish boy, was kidnapped as he walked home from his school day camp in the Hasidic neighborhood of Boro Park, Brooklyn in New York. It was the first time that his parents had allowed him to walk alone and they had practiced the route the day before; his mother waited for him at a predetermined point a few blocks away at 50th Street and 13th Avenue. This time though the boy missed a turn upon leaving camp and headed in the wrong direction, where he ran into Aron and asked for directions. The boy got into Aron’s car and never came out.
The disappearance sparked an all-out search by New York City police and a block-by-block search by up to 5,000 Orthodox Jewish volunteers from New York and other states coordinated by the Brooklyn South Shomrim volunteer civilian patrol. Nearly an entire city banded together to search for the young Jewish boy, with search parties circling the city nearly hourly. Tehilim and prayers were said by nearly every family in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, it was too late.
Two days later on the morning of July 13 parts of Leiby’s body were found both in Aron’s Kensington apartment and in a dumpster in another Brooklyn neighborhood. Aron was apprehended early Wednesday morning after police had examined videos from surveillance cameras along Leiby’s route home and saw him meeting with a man outside a dentist’s office and then apparently getting into his car. Police confronted Aron in his apartment, asking where the boy was. Aron allegedly nodded towards the freezer where they found the boy’s severed feet.
In a 450-word handwritten confession to police after his arrest, Aron claimed the boy had asked him for directions and Aron had instead taken the boy to a wedding in Monsey. He claimed he had planned to return the boy to his family on Tuesday but when he saw the missing child potters he “panicked.” He then returned to the apartment where he smothered the young child with a towel and dismembered his body, stuffing it into bags and a suitcase which he left in a dumpster in another neighborhood.
The killing rocked the Jewish community and especially the Chassidic community, whose streets are considered especially safe. Kletzky’s funeral was attended by thousands of Orthodox Jews, many of whom traveled from throughout the Tri-State area to attend, most of whom had no relation to the family. Attendance was estimated at 8,000 by the Shomrim civilian patrol and 10,000 by Arutz Sheva. The case was so traumatic that his own parents did not attend the funeral.
On July 21st, after the seven day shiva period, his parents, Rabbi Nachman and IttaKletzky, issued a statement saying, “We thank G‑d for the nearly nine beautiful years that He entrusted us with Leiby’s pure soul. We are certain that Leiby is now looking down from heaven and blessing us all.We would like to once again thank all our friends and neighbors; all the selfless volunteers from near and far; local, city, state, and federal agencies; and all our fellow New Yorkers and beyond who assisted us physically, emotionally, and spiritually—as well as all of G‑d’s children around the world who held our dear Leiby in their thoughts and prayers.” They then went on to urge people to do acts of kindness in Leiby’s memory, to be grateful to G-d, to give to charity and to light Shabbos candles as a way of keeping Leiby’s memory alive.
But the horror was far from over. As the trial began, autopsy revealed that Leiby had first ingested a lethal mix of four different drugs before being smothered by his cold-blooded killer. Nearly hours after Kletzky’s death was ruled a homicide, Aron was indicted on eight counts of murder and kidnapping – including two counts of first-degree murder, three counts of second-degree murder, two counts of first-degree kidnapping, and one count of second-degree kidnapping– which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole. Aron’s original defense lawyer, Gerard Marrone, resigned from the case saying he could not represent the defendant when “the allegations were too horrific.” Attorney Jennifer McCann joined Pierre Bazile for the defense and the year-long wait period began.
Aron was held at Rikers Island on round-the-clock suicide watch. He gave his first media interview to the New York Post on August 12, 2011. He did not refer to Kletzky by name, and kept referring to the smothering and dismembering of the boy as “the incident.” He did not explain why he took and kept the boy, saying, “He looked familiar. I thought I knew him.” In the meantime Aron’s lawyers insisted the defendant had been forced to write the 450 word confession by police, saying he was in no proper state of mind to do so and that they planned to plead insanity.
In August of 2011, the Kletzky family filed two suits against the Aron family. Father Nachman Kletzky filed a $100 million civil lawsuit against Aron in Brooklyn Supreme Court, seeking damages for the “abduction, kidnapping, torture, murder and dismemberment” of his son. He then filed a $100 million civil suit against Aron’s father Jack, six days later, for neglecting to monitor his son or protect Leiby while the latter was in his home. Both suits have yet to be settled.
On August 1, 2012 The New York Times reported that prosecutors had struck a deal with the defense in which Aron would plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of at least 40 years to life in prison. The Kletzky family was highly in favor of the decision, hoping to avoid having to relive the murder if the case went to trial. On August 9, 2012, Aron changed his plea to guilty at Brooklyn Supreme Court. He answered a series of questions from the judge in which he admitted to killing Leiby Kletzky. On August 29, 2012, Judge Neil Firetog sentenced Aron to 40 years to life in prison. Aron would be eligible for parole in 2051, which includes credit for time served.
Leiby’s parents did not attend the sentencing, nor did Aron’s. Assemblyman DovHikind, a family friend, read a statement from the boy’s parents that said, “G-d did not abandon our son, nor our family, for one second. There is no way one can comprehend or understand the pain of losing a child. Esther and I faced this unspeakable tragedy last year when our little boy Leiby was ruthlessly taken from us. … A day doesn’t pass without our thinking of Leiby – but today we close the door on this one aspect of our tragedy and seek to remember only the gifts that G-d has bestowed.”
“They feel that justice has been done,” said Hikind. “Every time the story appears, it brings them back to the day it happened. It’s incredibly painful, incredibly difficult, so hopefully now the spotlight will move on and that’s what they want.” Aron’s lawyer, Howard Greenberg, urged officials to place his client in protective custody in prison, stating, “If he’s not put in private custody while he’s in jail he’ll be murdered. There’s a lot of sick and demented people in jail, so I worry for his life. His sentence is 40 years—not death.” The judge agreed after Wednesday’s hearing.
In a small measure of hope, a few positive things have come from the senseless killing. State Assemblymen Dov Hikind and Peter Abbate and State Senator Diane Savino said they would introduce a bill called “Leiby’s Initiative,” which would grant a $500 annual tax credit to any New York City property owner who installs and maintains surveillance cameras on their property. Surveillance cameras were essential in the capture of Leiby’s killer and this bill could help catch and stop future criminals. NYC Councilman David Greenfield has said he would propose “Leiby’s Law,” a bill under which businesses could volunteer to be designated as safe places for children who are lost or otherwise in trouble. Employees would undergo background checks and business owners would put a green sticker in their store windows so children know it is a safe place to get help. In August, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office announced a similar program called “Safe Stop.” So far, 76 stores have signed up to display a green “Safe Haven” sticker in their windows to help lost children.
On July 20, relatives of Kletzky launched a website for the newly-established Leiby Kletzky Memorial Fund, www.leibykletzkymemorialfund.com , which aims to raise $1 million to help children and families in crisis and need. In its first day of operation, the website garnered $61,581 from 1,365 donors. In this way, they hope, Leiby’s memory can live on in the kindness done for other people.