NEW CITY — A lawyer for New Square arson suspect Shaul Spitzer said today he would provide a scenario explaining why Spitzer was at Aaron Rottenberg's house at 4:15 a.m. May 22 with an incendiary device.
Lawyer Paul Shechtman spoke outside the Rockland County Courthouse after Spitzer pleaded not guilty during arraignment on attempted murder and other charges. Schechtman said he would provide the scenario when the time comes. He gave no hint of the explanation today.
Spitzer, who worked for Grand Rebbe David Twersky and lived in his house, was indicted Thursday on a four-count indictment. Spitzer is accused of trying to burn down Aron Rottenberg's house at 4:15 a.m. May 22. Rottenberg had refused to abide by the edicts of the Hasidic community's rabbi.
Spitzer did not say anything during his arraignment before state Supreme Court Justice William A. Kelly at the Rockland County Courthouse. Kelly ordered him to return to court July 28. Spitzer remains free on $300,000 bail.
Also outside the courthouse afterward, Spitzer’s lawyer Kenneth Gribetz said Spitzer is remorseful and cries every day.
In New City, the grand jury charged Spitzer with second-degree attempted murder and second-degree attempted arson and two counts of first-degree assault.
Gribetz asked the court for a Yiddish-speaking interpreter for his client, and one was on hand this morning. Gribetz is representing Spitzer with his partner, Deborah
Loewenberg, and attorney Shechtman of Manhattan.
Rottenberg is recovering from third-degree burns to 50 percent of his body. He underwent two skin graft surgeries before being released from Westchester Medical Center this week.
During an interview Wednesday, Rottenberg blamed Twersky and the Skver Hasidic religious leadership for the attack and the months of harassment against him and others for refusing to pray in the community's synagogue. Twersky has denied Rottenberg's allegations.
Rottenberg said that people in the community suffered from "brainwashing" and that Spitzer was a pawn in the rabbi's attempt to control how people lived and prayed in New Square.
"They are so isolated that they have no idea what is going on in the world outside," he said. "These people feel they are the world.
"They only know the grand rebbe, New Square, the grand rebbe, New Square," Rottenberg said. "They don't know the outside, what freedom is all about."
The indictment accuses Spitzer of bringing incendiary materials to Rottenberg's home. Rottenberg's son Jacob was watching surveillance monitors and saw a man with a bag that turned out to be soaked in gasoline. He was watching because the family had received telephone threats the previous week and rocks had been thrown at their windows.
When Aron Rottenberg tried to stop the masked man, the accelerant burst into flames. Spitzer suffered third-degree burns to his hands and arms.
After spending weeks in a New York City hospital, Spitzer returned to New Square. Rottenberg's family criticized how easily Spitzer was accepted back in New Square.
District Attorney Thomas Zugibe called the attack "senseless."
"If not for the quick response of other residents in the home, this accelerant-fueled arson attack had the potential to injure or kill several people," Zugibe said. "When crimes such as this regrettably occur, they will be vigorously prosecuted and severely punished."
Spitzer faces a maximum of 25 years in state prison if convicted of the top charges.