Levi Aron, the Borough Park man in custody since last summer after confessing to police that he abducted and dismembered eight-year-old Leiby Kletzky, pleaded guilty today to second-degree murder and kidnapping in a plea deal that will carry a sentence of 40 years to life.
Aron’s lawyers said one of the reasons for the plea was that while Aron’s mental health “isn’t the same as yours or mine,” psychiatric evaluations suggested that his mental health issues didn’t interfere with his ability to understand the consequences of his actions.
Even so, Aron had to be cajoled and prodded through his guilty plea with leading questions from State Supreme Court Justice Neil Firetog.
Aron, wearing an orange corrections jumpsuit and a yarmulke, spoke mostly in monosyllables, in a husky whisper that was frequently all but inaudible in the hushed courtroom. Firetog patiently led Aron through an account of the facts last July when Aron picked up Kletzky, 8, while he was walking home from school in Borough Park.
“Where did you put him?” Firetog asked.
“In the car,” Aron answered.
Aron proceeded to drive Kletzky to Monsey, New York for a wedding before returning with him to Brooklyn and bringing him to his apartment.
“Did you have permission from his parents to keep him?” Firetog asked.
Did Aron go to work the next day? “Yes.” Did he leave the boy at his apartment? “Yes.” Did he come home for lunch? “Yes.” When? “One o’clock.” Did he go back to work? “Yes.” Did he see some of the posters now blanketing the neighborhood, announcing that Leiby Kletzky was missing and seeking information about his whereabouts? “Yes.” Did that concern him? “Yes.”
“What did you decide to do?” Firetog asked.
The judge told Aron he could confer with his lawyers if it would help, then asked again after the huddle.
“Panicked,” Aron said.
What did Aron give Kletzky then?
“I don’t remember.”
Was it his prescription medicine?
Did there come a time when he tied the boy up?
After he tied him up what did he do? Silence. Did he get something, like a towel?
What did he do with that towel?
Smother him how? Put the towel over what?
Did there come a time when Aron realized the boy was dead? What did he do then?
“Got rid of his body.”
How did he get rid of his body?
Silence. The judge asked again.
Aron said something inaudible except to his lawyer, Pierre Bazile, who repeated for the courtroom: “He said he put him in a suitcase”
And so on. The judge walked Aron through his dismemberment of Kletzky with a kitchen knife before concluding “I am satisfied that the defendant has admitted.”
Under the terms of Aron’s deal, he pleaded guilty to count three of his charges — second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of 25 years to life — and count eight, third-degree kidnapping, which carries a sentence of 15 years to life.
Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who represents Borough Park and has served as a spokesman for Kletzky’s family from the time he went missing, said Kletzky’s parents Nachman and Esther urged the Brooklyn DA’s office to work out a plea to avoid the further pain a trial and all its detailed testimony would bring.
Leiby’s parents did not attend the plea hearing, but Hikind read a short statement from them, in which they said that the guilty plea brought some measure of closure. They thanked God for leading them through the trauma of the last year, and concluded “”May our son’s soul rest in peace and continue to advocate in heaven for all of mankind.”
Aron will appear once more for sentencing on August 29. When he first comes before a parole board, he will be 76 years old.