Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Court Report
By Richard Blassberg

Menendez Sentenced in Rape, Murder From Tragedy Comes All-Too-Familiar Message
Westchester County Court, White Plains
Judge Barbara Zambelli Presiding


White Plains, July 25- Ariel Menendez, 28, having been found guilty, on May 29th, of the brutal rape and murder of 17-year-old Elizabeth Butler, a year earlier, appeared for sentencing by County Court Judge Barbara Zambelli
before a packed courtroom. More than thirty relatives and friends of the young North Salem High School senior had come seeking closure, and some relief from their grief. However, Menendez, convicted of two counts of Murder, Rape, and Criminal Sexual Act, had come with his own agenda.

When asked by Judge Zambelli if he wished to make a statement, Defendant Menendez, standing beside his Legal Aid Attorney Harvey Loeb, spoke out angrily, “Of course I do.” Wasting no time, he acknowledged
how much he hated his victim’s family, and then proceeded to prove it by torturing them with his version of the circumstances involved in his taking of Elizabeth’s life. Still insisting that they had engaged in consensual sex, declaring, “We both agreed to it,” he went on to describe, in agonizing detail, how they then began arguing, and he proceeded to strangle and stab her to death.

Many in the courtroom, devastated by the stark, matter-of-fact, account began weeping. As Menendez went on, suggesting that he had been mistreated, his victim’s father, no longer able to contain himself, shouted, “Shut up.” At that point the Defendant turned to face the Butler Family cursing repeatedly until court officers succeeded in ushering him from the courtroom. The proceedings were then adjourned for about fifteen minutes.

Prior to Menendez, Patricia Butler, the victim’s mother had delivered a statement in which she shared with the Court the impact that her daughter’s killing had had upon her family. Perhaps more objectively and calmly
than most mothers in her situation might have been able to, Mrs. Butler acknowledged Menendez’ misguided feelings about his own victimization, telling him firmly, “You are a sociopath without a conscience.” And,
following with, “If you can’t have something you destroy it.”

Having used the brief adjournment time to deal with another matter involving the release of a Legal Aid attorney from the case of another defendant, and the assumption of the case by a privately retained counsel, Zambelli called for Menendez to be returned to the courtroom for the resumption of his sentencing. ADAs Perrone and Branca-Santos, who had successfully prosecuted the case, now returned to the Prosecution table as the Defendant rejoined Defense Attorney Loeb.

Declaring, “Mr. Menendez, you raped strangled, and stabbed Elizabeth Butler to death, and have shown no remorse,” Zambelli then proceeded, straight away, to sentence Menendez. “For Count One, First Degree Rape,
I sentence you to a determinate twenty-five years, plus five years of post release supervision, and registration as a sex offender. For Count Two, Second Degree Murder, I sentence you to Life Without Possibility of Parole. For
Count Three, Criminal Sex Act, I sentence you to Twenty-Five Years. And, for the Fourth Count, First Degree Murder, I sentence you to Life Without Possibility of Parole.” The pronouncement of sentence completed, Elizabeth Butler’s family and friends broke into a spontaneous round of applause.

June 5th of last year Ariel Menendez, then 27, who had been dating Elizabeth Butler, a seventeen-year-old North Salem High School senior, enraged that she had attempted to break off her relationship with him, gained entry to the Butler’s SUV and attacked her. The incident occurred in the parking lot near the Hygrade Market, across from the Croton Falls Rail Road station, where Elizabeth worked part-time and where she had met Menendez a year earlier.

Tragically, her lifeless, savaged, body was discovered by her parents. The heinous crime had sent shockwaves
through the normally peaceful Northern Westchester community, the circumstances, perhaps giving brief pause for thought to parents regarding the company kept by their teen-aged children.

Analysis:

If Elizabeth’s life, and her family’s bitter loss, are not to be in vain, we must all give more than brief pause to
consideration of their all-too-common plight. There are those who might ask how it was that someone the likes
of Ariel Menendez could manage to work his way into a seven-month relationship with Elizabeth? And, Mrs. Butler openly admitted that she wished she could have done more to protect her. However, those who have raised a daughter through the teenaged years, and into adulthood, know only too well how vulnerable adolescent girls may truly be.

At sixteen and seventeen girls are physically, hormonally, and emotionally thrust into a very different circumstance than they have ever experienced. For some there is a strong need to receive attention, to love and be loved.
Often those needs make such young women, particularly vulnerable to older, possibly predatory, males. Just beginning to find their confidence socially, adolescent girls may find the attention of older males, flattering, encouraging, and fun. They are too busy exploring relationships, sex, and sometimes drugs, and/or alcohol to question, or even be aware of, the possible motives of older companions.

As parents we must never lose sight of the fact that our most important role in life is parenting. One cannot be too careful of who it is that our kids are hanging with when they’re not at home. Still, try as we might to be involved,
and yet not too overbearing, it’s a very narrow line that must be walked. Sometimes it’s difficult to make seventeen-year-old girls, in love, see what we see in their boyfriends, and pushing too hard may only make the forbidden fruit appear the more sweet. Given that Elizabeth had already decided that she was no longer interested in Ariel Menendez, to that extent her parents had done all that they might. Unfortunately, nobody could foresee the depth of this predator’s dark side.

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