NEW YORK (AP) — The confession of a man charged with kidnapping, smothering and dismembering an 8-year-old boy was strong-armed by authorities who took advantage of his fragile mental state, defense attorneys said Monday.
At a brief hearing in state Supreme Court in Brooklyn, Levi Aron appeared via video from behind plated glass, barely moving or shifting his gaze. Outside, his attorneys said they intend to prove Aron, 35, was not guilty by reason of insanity in the death of Leiby Kletzky.
Greenberg said authorities told Aron what to write in his confession, and he followed their orders.
"My opinion is this guy would admit he shot Kennedy if you spent enough time with him," said defense attorney Howard Greenberg, who joined the team pro-bono after the presiding judge questioned the experience of his attorneys.
Leiby went missing July 11 while walking home from religious day camp, the first time he was allowed to walk by himself. He missed his turn and got lost, and police say he approached Aron for help. About two days later, the boy's severed feet were found in the freezer at Aron's apartment, along with bloody knives and a carving board. The rest of the boy's body was found in a red suitcase in a trash bin several blocks away. His legs had been cut from his torso.
"Anyone who thirsts for blood can take solace in the fact that he will spend the rest of his life in an asylum, never to see the light of day," Greenberg said of his client.
According to prosecutors, Aron admitted he killed the boy after he panicked when he saw posters with the child's photo. After the two met on the street, Aron took the boy to a wedding upstate, then to his apartment. The child remained there alone, possibly of his own free will, all day while Aron was at work. When he returned, he took a bath towel and smothered the boy, he said, according to authorities.
The medical examiner's office said the boy was given a cocktail of prescription drugs. But Aron's confession didn't mention that, and he denied ever tying up the boy, though marks were found on his body.
Aron has been found fit to stand trial, but his attorneys have not yet changed his plea to not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. A court-ordered evaluation obtained by The Associated Press showed that a psychologist diagnosed him with an adjustment disorder and a personality disorder with schizoid features. But Aron would still need to be evaluated by doctors who would then testify at trial. Defense attorneys Monday refused to say where they were in the process.
The Kletzky family is Hasidic, which is an ultra-Orthodox type of Judaism. Their Brooklyn neighborhood, called Borough Park, is home to one of the world's largest communities of Orthodox Jews outside of Israel. Aron is Orthodox but not Hasidic.
Dov Hikind, a state assemblyman from Brooklyn whose district includes Borough Park, said the Kletzky family is still grieving, especially during Jewish holidays. He said the idea that Aron should be found not guilty is wrong, and "stabs a knife into the family."
"Obviously for the rest of the world, things move on," he said. "But the family is living it every single day."