LOCKPORT – Michael J. Solomon, the former Lutheran school music teacher from North Tonawanda charged with sexually abusing a girl in a case that has dragged on for a decade, was sentenced Thursday to 12 years in prison, to be followed by five years of post-release supervision.
Solomon, 49, already has served about 7½ years of that sentence, dating back from his conviction in a jury trial in 2005, which was overturned on appeal. That trial had resulted in a 32-year sentence.
Thursday, it looked for a moment as if Solomon might withdraw his guilty plea to a reduced charge of attempted first-degree course of sexual conduct against a child, risking a new trial and a sentence of 25 more years in prison.
But after the attorneys huddled with Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas in her chambers, the judge stepped back from her threat to sentence Solomon to 15 years instead of 12.
“I believe she wanted to honor the wishes of the victim, who wanted to get on with her life,” Deputy District Attorney Holly E. Sloma said.
Assistant District Attorney Robert A. Zucco said, “We have an extra duty to make the victim’s wishes known. Whatever happens, she wants the case to be over today.”
The victim, who was 8 when the abuse started in 1999, attended the court session but did not speak. In court two weeks ago, the woman, who was not one of Solomon’s former students, denounced him as a “sick and sadistic person” and said she would never forgive him.
Solomon taught drums and trumpet for 11 years at Matt’s Music in North Tonawanda and at two Lutheran schools, Holy Ghost in Wheatfield and St. John in North Tonawanda.
His conviction for having sex with the girl and taking pornographic photos of her was thrown out by the state Court of Appeals in 2012 because Solomon’s attorney at the original trial, Assistant Public Defender Michele G. Bergevin, had once represented one of the investigating police officers in a private legal matter. This created a conflict of interest that could not be waived, the court said.
Farkas agreed to a 12-year sentence as part of a March 5 plea agreement.
But the judge became irate at the May 22 court session after reading a presentencing interview with a probation officer in which Solomon denied wrongdoing.
Farkas threatened to cancel the plea deal but postponed sentencing until Thursday, when she said she lacked the authority to scrub a plea without the defendant’s consent.
Zucco said he thought Farkas had the right to abandon the sentencing cap she had agreed to, and sentence Solomon to the legal maximum of 15 years for the charge to which he had pleaded guilty.
Farkas said she intended to do just that, but she gave defense attorney Glenn Pincus a chance to talk her out of it. But Pincus argued for a sentence of time served. He said that keeping Solomon in jail any longer would serve “neither the ends of justice, nor the protection of the public, nor any possible rehabilitation.”
Pincus said that since Solomon’s 2012 release, which lasted until he pleaded guilty, he had been devoting his time to taking care of his widowed 87-year-old mother.
“Michael Solomon pleaded guilty. He admitted his crime. He expressed his remorse,” Pincus said. “Nobody here thinks Michael Solomon is ever going to do anything like this again.”
Farkas answered, “I don’t know why you’re not reading between the lines here. Your client, when he walks out of here today, is going to get 12 years or 15 years. Stop talking to me about time served.”
Co-defense counsel Steven M. Cohen then cut in and asked that he and Pincus should have a chance to talk with Solomon privately. After they conferred for 15 minutes, it appeared that Solomon was going to go to trial again. That’s when Farkas summoned the attorneys to her office and settled the matter.
“I’m begging for mercy for my mother,” Solomon said when the court session resumed.
Farkas replied, “This court would be much more disposed to grant you the mercy you seek if you had taken responsibility, full responsibility, for your actions, and you did not.”