ROCKLAND (VINnews) — Rabbi Nathaniel Sommer and his son Aaron will avoid jail time, after a judge upheld a plea bargain agreement, in the case of the Evergreen Court Home fire in Monsey.
Judge Kevin Russo stuck with his prior commitment and the two men were sentenced to probation, despite hearing emotional pleas for prison time from the victims’ families.
Russo said probation was appropriate, because the two had no criminal history and had a reputation for charitable work and helping others.
Judge Russo said the rabbis admitted they acted recklessly and the court system doesn’t respond to attempts at vengeance and intimidation, referring to multiple protests and activities outside of the court.
“I doubt I will ever see you again in my courtroom,” Russo added.
Russo noted the emotional response from the families of the two men who died, Jared Lloyd, 35, and Oliver Hueston, 79. He also said firefighter Lt. Lloyd was a “true hero” and adult-home resident Oliver Hueston was “an excellent family man.”
A plea deal was negotiated in June, but Wednesday was the formal sentencing for 71-year-old R’ Nathaniel Sommer and his 29-year-old son R’ Aaron, after pleading guilty for the March 2021 fire.
The defendants pleaded guilty to causing the fire in March 2021, at the dilapidated Evergreen Court Home for Adults, as a result of their Kashering for Pesach. The fire ignited the massive building, hours after they had kashered the kitchen
Reb Nathaniel used a 20-pound propane-injected industrial blowtorch and Reb Aaron dragged buckets of burning coal. The heat and flames simmered and climbed through the greasy ovens and into the walls.
The Sommers’ attorney, Jacob Laufer, called Nathaniel a respected rabbi who has been an EMT for 43 years, and a “spiritual and relic leader.”
“He’s saved lives,” Laufer said. He said Aaron is involved in charitable work, including working with children in Ukraine. He said that when the Sommers left the facility, there was no fire.
Lawyers said they’ve submitted around 80 to 90 letters on behalf of the Somers’.
One letter sent to Russo was signed by 27 elected officials and rabbis from the Orthodox Jewish community, expressing concerns about an “antisemitic campaign that targets two defendants in your court.”
Rockland DA Thomas Walsh released a video statement explaining his agreeing to the plea deal, part of which described the unprecedented nature of the case. “The reckless conduct that both defendants engaged in and ultimately admitted to, has no model, no previous case law, no true analogy; it is precedent-setting. No one has been convicted, let alone arrested and prosecuted, for utilizing a torch and hot coals for a ritual religious cleaning in the manner the defendants chose that evening.”
Sabrail Davenport, Lloyd’s mother, emotionally pleaded with the judge to reverse his decision.
She cried and raised her voice while asking Russo where the justice for her family was. She said she wanted jail time for the men who caused Lloyd’s death. She played a tape of Lloyd calling Mayday before he burned to death, the last words she heard her son speak.
Davenport said she sees Lloyd’s death as a life sentence for her and her family, emphasizing, “My grandsons will grow up without their dad and what will hurt them more is knowing that justice was not served.”
However it appears that the judge and the DA both concluded that the intense pain and trauma of the victims’ families still does not justify holding people accountable, if they are innocent.