NEW YORK - A man accused in the horrific abduction and dismemberment of an 8-year-old boy from a tight-knit Orthodox Jewish community pleaded guilty yesterday - a deal that will put him behind bars for at least 40 years and avoid a heartrending trial.
District Attorney Charles Hynes made the arrangement in consultation with the family of the boy, Leiby Kletzky.
The plea, to charges of second-degree murder and kidnapping, guarantees a sentence of 40 years to life for Levi Aron, a 36-year-old hardware store clerk. He originally faced a first-degree murder charge.
One of the city's most gruesome crimes in recent memory began with a chance encounter last summer on the streets of Borough Park, home to one of the world's largest Hasidic communities outside Israel.
The victim got lost on his walk home from a religious day camp and asked Aron, whom he met on the street, for help, prosecutors said. It was the first time the little boy was allowed to walk alone, and he was supposed to travel about seven blocks to meet his mother but missed a turn.
According to court papers, the defendant provided a disturbing narrative of what happened next.
Aron recounted how the boy first asked for a ride to a bookstore. But "on the way, he changed his mind and wasn't sure he wanted to go."
The defendant described deciding to take the boy to a wedding upstate. He said when they returned, they watched television before the boy fell asleep. Leiby remained there the next day while Aron went to work.
By that time, the disappearance had sparked a major search effort; the boy's picture was plastered on light posts around Borough Park.
"When I saw the fliers, I was panicky and afraid," police said Aron wrote. Once home, he added: "I went for a towel to smother him."
Detectives' notes also outlined statements by Aron about how he carved up the body with knives and disposed of body parts.
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