NEW YORK – Looking dazed and speaking barely above a whisper, a Brooklyn hardware store clerk pleaded guilty Thursday to charges he abducted and dismembered an 8-year-old boy who lost his way home last year.
The guilty plea to second-degree murder and kidnapping guarantees Levi Aron a sentence of 40 years to life in a case that traumatized the victim’s tight-knit Orthodox Jewish community.
Aron, 36, had previously pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and, if convicted, would have faced life in prison without parole. But the family of Leiby Kletzky urged prosecutors to strike a deal to avoid a painful trial.
“There is no way one can comprehend or understand the pain of losing a child,” the boy’s father, Nachman Kletzky, said in a statement distributed to the media. But he added that the plea gave the family “some partial closure on one aspect of this nightmare.”
The plea deal means Aron could technically qualify for a parole, but only if he survives in prison into his mid-70s.
“No one should ever forget what happened to Leiby Kletzky, but we can all take solace that Levi Aron will never, ever be able to hurt anyone again,” District Attorney Charles Hynes said. One of the city’s most gruesome crimes in recent memory began with a chance encounter last summer on the streets of the Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough Park, home to one of the world’s largest Hasidic communities outside Israel.
The victim 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 had been allowed to walk alone, and he was supposed to travel about seven blocks to meet his mother but missed a turn.
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 taking 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 and disposed of body parts, including the severed feet found wrapped in plastic his freezer. A cutting board and three bloody carving knives were found in the refrigerator. The rest of the boy’s body was discovered inside a red suitcase in a trash bin.