In the case of the Evergreen Court Home fire in Monsey, a judge upheld a plea agreement, meaning that Rabbi Nathaniel Sommer and his son Aaron will not go to jail.
Despite heartfelt requests for prison time from the relatives of the victims, Judge Kevin Russo remained true to his previous decision and sentenced the two offenders to probation.
Due to the two’s lack of criminal history and their reputations for philanthropic work and assisting others, according to Russo, probation was acceptable.
Judge Russo referred to several protests and actions outside of the court, saying that the rabbis recognized they acted carelessly and that the legal system doesn’t react to attempts at retaliation and intimidation. “I doubt I will ever see you again in my courtroom,” Russo continued.
Russo observed the distress felt by the relatives of the two victims, 79-year-old Oliver Hueston and 35-year-old Jared Lloyd.
As well as Oliver Hueston, a resident of an adult home, he called Lt. Lloyd, a firefighter, a “true hero” and described him as “an excellent family man.”
After reaching a plea agreement in June, R’ Nathaniel Sommer, 71, and his son, R’ Aaron Sommer, 29, were officially sentenced on Wednesday for their roles in the March 2021 fire.
Due to their Kashering for Pesach, the defendants admitted to starting the fire in March 2021 at the run-down Evergreen Court Home for Adults. Hours after they had kashered the kitchen, the fire erupted and destroyed the vast structure.
Both Reb Aaron and Reb Nathaniel dragged buckets of burning coal. Reb Nathaniel utilized a 20-pound industrial blowtorch with propane injection. Through the oily ovens and up into the walls, the heat and flames simmered.
Jacob Laufer, the Sommers’ attorney, referred to Nathaniel as a “spiritual and relic leader” in addition to being a well-known rabbi and 43-year EMT. Laufer remarked, “He’s saved lives.
Aaron, according to him, engages in charity endeavors, including working with kids in Ukraine.
He said that there was no fire present when the Sommers left the building. Lawyers claimed to have sent between 80 and 90 letters on the Somers’ behalf.
27 government officials and rabbis from the Orthodox Jewish community signed a letter addressed to Russo that expressed worry about an “antisemitic campaign that targets two defendants in your court.”
In a video statement he made to explain accepting the plea offer, Rockland DA Thomas Walsh mentioned the case’s rarity in part.
“The dangerous behavior that both defendants participated in and ultimately admitted to had no precedence, no established legal precedent, and no real analog.
Nobody has ever been found guilty, much less detained and charged, for performing a religious ceremonial cleaning using a torch and hot coals the way the defendants did that evening.
Lloyd’s mother, Sabrail Davenport, pleadingly begged the judge to change his mind.
She sobbed and yelled at Russo, demanding to know where her family’s justification was. She declared that she wanted the men responsible for Lloyd’s killing to go to prison.
The last words she heard her son say were on a tape of Lloyd calling Mayday just before he perished in a fire.
“My grandsons will grow up without their dad, and what will hurt them more?” Davenport said, adding that she sees Lloyd’s death as a life sentence for her and her family.
“What will hurt them even more is knowing that justice was not served.”
However, it seems that both the judge and the district attorney came to the same conclusion—that if someone is innocent, the extreme suffering and agony endured by the victims’ families still do not warrant holding them accountable.