The gruesome murder and dismemberment of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky has shattered Brooklyn’s traditionally Hasidic community. Orthodox Jew Levi Aron, known as a shy, withdrawn loner, confessed to killing the boy. This case is a parent’s worst nightmare.
Leiby is believed to have gotten lost while walking home the seven blocks from day camp for the first time alone. What allegedly happened next is too disturbing to detail. Levi Aron was charged with the boy’s murder almost immediately.
Aron’s legal defense team includes two relatively inexperienced attorneys–30-year-old Jennifer McCann and Pierre Bazile, who was licensed to practice law in 2007.
The pair have spent as much time defending their credentials as they have defending their client. The defense duo has cited inbreeding in the Orthodox community as a possible defense.
Levi ultimately confessed in early August, 2012, to the horrific murder and dismemberment of 8-year-old Leiby and was sentenced to 40 years to life in prison.
Aron is charged with murder in the first degree, a premeditated, purposeful killing of another person. He is facing life in prison without the possibility of parole, as New York state does not use the death penalty.
The kidnapping and murder of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky is every parent’s worst nightmare. On Monday, July 11, 2011, Leiby’s parents gave him permission to walk home from day camp by himself. It was the first time the child would have made the seven-block journey alone. He had practiced it with his parents, and they were waiting for him at a designated rendezvous point. When he did not arrive, they were immediately concerned he had gotten lost, and they alerted community leaders that they were looking for their son.
The tightly-knit, Hasidic Jewish neighborhood of Borough Park, Brooklyn, sprang into action. Over 5,000 volunteers assisted the New York Police Department in combing the neighborhood. Surveillance videos from local businesses showed that the boy missed a turn, kept walking and stopped to ask a man for directions.
That man was Levi Aron, who police and prosecutors allege kidnapped the child, taking him to the attic apartment where he was murdered and dismembered.
Police used the surveillance footage to find Aron at his apartment. They report that when they arrived, the apartment door was open, and when they asked where Leiby was, Aron nodded to the kitchen. Police say they saw blood-soaked towels and bloody carving knives. They found the boy’s feet in the freezer. Aron told them that the rest of the corpse could be found in a suitcase in a dumpster on 20th Street. Aron then wrote out a 450-word statement to law enforcement confessing to the killing.
According to the statements Aron made to the police, Aron was on his way to a wedding when he came across Leiby. He put Leiby in his car, went to the wedding, and returned to his apartment late that night. Aron went to work the next day, leaving Leiby to watch television.
In his confession, Aron wrote that on his way home from his job at a hardware store, Aron saw the flyers for the missing child and panicked. He smothered Leiby with a towel. At a loss for what to do with the body, he dismembered the child, storing some body parts in his refrigerator, and some in a suitcase.
Aron was arrested immediately and taken to the prison ward of Bellevue Hospital Center, where he underwent psychiatric evaluations. He was charged with eight counts of murder and kidnapping.
After mental health evaluations, Aron was deemed competent to stand trial, but the question then became whether his legal team was up to the task. Aron had initially been represented by Gerard Marrone, an experienced criminal defense lawyer, but he stepped down from the case because it was too gruesome.
Taking up the mantle from Marrone was 30-year-old Jennifer McCann and Pierre Bazile, both relatively inexperienced lawyers who were only admitted to the New York state bar in 2007. The pair have spent as much time defending their credentials as they have defending their client, and the judge in this case has had cause to admonish them for sharing details on their Facebook accounts.
Howard Greenberg, a veteran criminal defense lawyer from Brooklyn, has since joined the case on a pro bono basis.
Aron pleaded guilty in August, 2012, to the murder and dismemberment of 8-year-old Leiby and was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Levi Aron – The alleged murderer and kidnapper of Leiby Kltzky. An Orthodox Jew who grew up in Brooklyn and worked at a hardware store. Described by those who knew him as quiet and socially awkward, Aron suffered a head injury at age 9 which is believed to be a cause of his neurotic behaviors and possibly mental illness. He had no arrest record prior to this event.
Leiby Kletzky – Yehudah Kletzky, nicknamed “Leiby”, was the third of six children and only son of Nachman Kletzky and Esther Kletzky, Hasidic Jews and residents of Borough Park.
Jennifer McCann – One of Aron’s defense lawyers. Despite her youth and relative inexperience, McCann has achieved not guilty by reason of insanity verdicts in other very serious cases.
Pierre Bazile – A former NYPD cop, he is the first lawyer hired by the Aron family, who is a former NYPD cop.
Howard Greenberg – A seasoned criminal defense lawyer who has taken the case on a pro bono basis.
Julie B. Rendleman – The lead prosecutor on the case, whom the defense claims became a witness when she interviewed Aron at the police precinct following his arrest.
Guilty Plea Results In 40 Years To Life Sentence
The defense has made no secret that they are going to press for a not guilty by reason of insanity verdict. In fact, the wild-haired Greenberg has said that if Aron is not found insane, he “will quit the practice of criminal law.”
“They told him what to say, and consequently it’s not his statement,” Mr. Greenberg said. “My opinion is you can get this guy to admit he shot Kennedy if you spend a little bit of time with him.” Greenberg went on to say, “This is a very simple case. He’s either evil or he’s crazy. He’s obviously crazy.”
The defense team has mentioned a few theories that would cause Aron’s madness. They cite inbreeding in the Orthodox community as a possible cause, and they also looked back to a head injury Aron sustained at age 9 as a possible catalyst for brain trauma. Defense lawyers point to a lifelong history of difficulty in social relationships, being cold, withdrawn, and unable to relate to others as proof of mental illness.
Greenberg remains categorical on the question of Aron’s insanity and will argue that Aron’s written statement came from police influence.
One challenge for the defense will be finding a jury who has not already formed its opinion on Aron’s guilt. This case has been in the local news non-stop in New York City and it seems like everyone has an opinion.
By Kelly Sheahen Gerner