Remove Niagara County Judge Matthew Murphy

Remove Niagara County Judge Matthew Murphy

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Autumn Mattox started this petition to NYS Commission of Judicial Conduct


Two weeks ago, Niagara County Judge Matthew Murphy made headlines around the world when he handed down his sentence for a Lewiston man guilty of raping four teenage girls. He decided that the serial rapist, 20-year-old Christopher Belter, should not serve even a single hour in jail for his violent attacks on the young women. Instead, he was set free with nothing more than probation and a warning. That was it.

One of Belter’s rape victims was just 16 at the time. She testified that while Belter raped her she began to sob. He told her “to stop being such a baby." He also told her that if she would just stop resisting it wouldn’t hurt as much. Judge Murphy heard all this and decided that the most appropriate punishment would be freedom. After the verdict was announced, one of Belter’s young victims fled to the courthouse bathroom to vomit. She told a reporter later, “I fully expected to go into that courtroom and watch him get taken out in cuffs to go to prison.”

Belter is the son of a wealthy Lewiston family, living at the time in a $1.4 million mansion. He was a student at a privileged private high school. His parents are both lawyers. His father works with a prestigious law firm where, according to the New York Times, senior partners are paid salaries of up to $1 million a year.

Was all that affluence and whiteness a factor in Murphy’s desire to keep Belter shielded from the discomforts of state prison? From the bench, Judge Murphy declared, “It seems to me that a sentence that involves incarceration or partial incarceration isn’t appropriate.” The Buffalo News replied correctly in an editorial, “Does anyone remember any poor Black defendants being treated so kindly for serial sexual abuse?”

A quick look at his record shows that Judge Murphy is, in fact, well-prepared to issue stiff sentences in his court. Just not for sex crimes against girls.

In 2019 Murphy sentenced another man to just a year’s probation after he arranged to pay $100 to have sex with a 12-year-old girl at the Hampton Inn on South Transit Road. But that same year he sent a different man to state prison for 2 to 4 years for the sin of stealing his wife’s car. That was also the year he sent a woman from Lockport to jail for 1 to 3 years for burglarizing a local residence and a local bait and tackle store. It is easy to wonder how Murphy decides which crimes warrant prison time and which crimes do not.

As he issued his sentence for Belter, Murphy explained in court that he sought guidance from God. “I'm not ashamed that to say that I actually prayed over what is the appropriate sentence in this case because there was great pain.”

I wonder exactly what message Judge Murphy thinks he got from God in the matter. Did he think God told him: “Look, he’s a nice, clean cut young man and all he did was rape four teenage girls. It’s not like he broke into a bait and tackle store. Don’t make a big deal of it. Let the lad free.” Certainly that is what his sentence indicated.

According to news reports, the Lewiston Rapist is now a resident of Lockport. Thanks to Judge Murphy, he is now free to mingle among teenage girls here. “It’s just going to make him more comfortable doing this in the future,” one of his victims said of Belter being let off the hook. “This is a pattern. He will offend again.”

To be clear, I am no knee-jerk fan of putting people in jail. One of the stupidest things we have done in this country in the past 40 years is fill our jails and prisons with non-violent drug offenders. But Belter’s crimes were violent. There were victims, and those young women will now live with the trauma of his attacks on them their entire lives. I agree with Niagara County District Attorney Brian Seaman, who said, “The consequences for his actions should have been state prison.”

Let’s also set aside the stupidity offered in a recent letter to the editor here: “I sincerely hope that the young ladies involved here have learned their lesson as well.” What’s that lesson exactly: Don’t sleep over at your girlfriend’s house because her brother might rape you? One of the girls, a close friend of Belter's sister, was staying over because the two of them had an early flight together the next morning. What mindset from the Stone Age thinks that teenage girls are responsible for their own rapes?

What justice these young women get is now up to the community. I hope that Belter’s photo circulates widely and that every day he shows his face in public someone reminds him of the damage he has wrought. As for Judge Murphy — who will retire from the bench at the end of the month — this is his legacy now. Whatever good he did for our community as a judge, and before that as Niagara County District Attorney, that’s all erased. He will be remembered simply as the judge who said he spoke with God and then let the violent rapist of four teenage girls go free.
 Written by Jim Shultz for the Union Sun and Journal. Het founder and executive director of the Democracy Center and a father and grandfather in Lockport. He can be reached by email at:

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