BROOKLYN SUPREME COURT — More than a year after he first confessed to savagely butchering 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky of Borough Park, Levi Aron appeared in Brooklyn Court Thursday afternoon to plead guilty to his murder.
"I panicked," Aron said in a barely audible whisper as Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Neil Firetog leaned out of his chair to hear. "I smothered him."
"And what did you do after you realized he was dead?" Firetog asked.
"I got rid of the body," Levi whispered, his face immobile.
"And how did you get rid of the body?"
"I put it in a suitcase."
That suitcase, which contained some of the boy's dismembered remains, was discovered in a Dumpster in Sunset Park early on July 13, 2011, two days after Kletzky became lost walking home from camp. Aron told police he found the boy wandering along 18th Avenue in Borough Park, just blocks from the supermarket where his mother was waiting for him.
The gruesome discovery ended a massive search that had mobilized Orthodox Jews from as far away as upstate New York and New Jersey. Police found bloody knives and Kletzky's severed feet in a freezer in Aron's Kensington apartment.
The prospect of reliving those nightmarish details prompted the boy's grief-stricken parents, Nachman and Esther, to lobby hard for a plea deal that would keep the case from going to trial, Assemblyman Dov Hikind told reporters outside the courtroom.
"There is no way one can comprehend or understand the pain of losing a child. Esther and I faced this unspeakable tragedy when our little boy Leiby was ruthlessly taken from us," Nachman Kletzky wrote in a letter that Hikind read outside of court. "A day does not pass without our thinking of Leiby, but today we close the door on this one aspect of our tragedy and seek to remember only the gifts that God has bestowed."
The grieving father thanked the Kings County District Attorney for "not forcing us to relive the terror that began when Leiby went missing."
The deal, first reported by the Daily News last week, will put Aron behind bars for at least 40 years, serving consecutive sentences of 15 years for kidnapping and 25 to life for murder in the second degree.
“With this guilty plea, I hope the process of healing and hopefully closure can begin for the Kletzky family and community,” District Attorney Joseph Hynes said in a statement following the plea. “No one should ever forget what happened to Leiby Kletzky but we can all take solace that Levi Aron will never, ever be able to hurt anyone again.”
Despite giving a detailed confession, Aron initially pleaded not guilty, and was expected to advance an insanity plea. But that plan fell apart after a psychologist found that Aron was responsible for his actions. Aron's defense team said his unspecified psychological condition, while not severe enough to warrant an insanity defense, was responsible for the total lack of emotion he displayed in court.
To Hikind, it only made him seem more like a monster.
Kletzky's murder rocked Brooklyn's tight knit Orthodox Jewish community. Thousands of weeping mourners flooded the streets of Borough Park for his funeral, their agony mixed with outrage that the crime had been perpetrated by one of their own.
Yet, in his letter, Nachman Kletzky reaffirmed his family's belief that his son's senseless murder was part of a higher plan.
"God did not abandon our son or our family for even one second," Nachman Kletzky wrote. "He was with Leiby, and he was with us."
Hikind had strong words for those who questioned whether the sentence, which would put Aron up for parole in his late 70s, was too lenient for such a brutal crime.
"Levi Aron going to prison for the rest of his life doesn't do one thing to bring Leiby back to us," Hikind said. "No one has suffered more than this family, and this is what they pursued."
Aron is scheduled to return to court on Aug. 29 for sentencing.