Levi Aron, second left, sits with his attorneys Howard Greenberg, left, Pierre Bazile, and Jennifer McCann, in New York state Supreme Court, in New York''s Brooklyn borough, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012. Aron pleaded guilty to charges he abducted and dismembered Leiby Kletzky, an 8-year-old boy who became lost in Brooklyn after leaving a day camp. The plea will result in a sentence of 40 years to life in prison.
Photo credit: (AP Photo/Richard Drew, Pool)
NEW YORK (AP) — The answers to the judge's questions came quietly and haltingly, and absent any emotion that would suggest remorse for a crime that had horrified a tight-knit Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn.
Yes, Levi Aron said, he had taken an 8-year-old stranger off the street in the summer of 2011. Yes, he had drugged, bound and smothered the boy. Yes, he had carved up the corpse.
And how did he get rid of the body parts?
"In a suitcase," the onetime hardware store clerk said, again barely above a whisper and without elaboration.
Aron, 36, made his monotonic admissions Thursday before pleading guilty to second-degree murder and kidnapping — part of deal intended to put him behind bars for most or all of the rest of his life and to spare the family of Leiby Kletzky the strain of a trial.
"There is no way one can comprehend or understand the pain of losing a child," the boy's father, Nachman Kletzky wrote in a statement distributed to the press. But he added that the plea gave the family "some partial closure on one aspect of this nightmare."
Aron had previously pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and, if convicted, would have faced life without parole. The arrangement means he could technically qualify for parole, but only after he serves a minimum of 40 years behind bars.
The plea came Thursday afternoon after Aron was led into the courtroom wearing an orange jail jump suit, handcuffs and a yarmulke. He gave no motive for the abduction and only hinted at one for the killing — that he "panicked" when he found out there was a frantic search on for the boy.
Afterward, defense attorney Jennifer McCann insisted that her client, though under medication, knew what he was doing.
"He came here to accept responsibility for his actions," McCann said. "He understands the charges."
One of the city's most gruesome crimes in recent memory began with a chance encounter on the streets of Borough Park, home to one of the world's largest Hasidic communities outside Israel.
The child got lost on his walk home from a religious day camp and asked Aron, whom he met on the street, for help, prosecutors said. It was the first time the little boy was allowed to walk alone, and he was supposed to travel about seven blocks to meet his mother but missed a turn.
According to court papers, the defendant himself provided authorities a disturbing narrative of what happened next.
During an interrogation after his arrest and in a written confession, Aron recounted how the boy first asked for a ride to a book store. But "on the way, he changed his mind and wasn't sure he wanted to go."
The defendant described deciding to take the boy to a wedding upstate. He said when they returned, they watched television before the boy fell asleep. Leiby remained there watching TV the next day while Aron went to work at the hardware store.
By that time, Borough Park was buzzing over the disappearance. The boy's picture was plastered on light posts around the area.
"When I saw the fliers, I was panicky and afraid," police said Aron wrote. Once home, he added: "I went for a towel to smother him. He fought back a little until he eventually stopped breathing."
Detectives' notes also outlined statements by Aron about how he carved up the body with knives and disposed of body parts, including the severed feet found wrapped in plastic his freezer.
The rest of the boy's body was discovered in bags inside a red suitcase in a trash bin. His legs had been cut from his torso.
Aron claimed that after the killing he was hearing voices telling him "to take his own life for what he did," according to court papers.
As the interrogation wore on, detectives said Aron made clear he was aware of his own notoriety.
"I'm famous," he said.
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