LOCKPORT– The women tortured by Iver J. Phallen say he left them scarred physically and emotionally for life.
Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon, who gave Phallen a 14-year prison sentence even she considered inadequate, said when she read the transcript of the victims’ grand jury testimony, “I was stunned, I was appalled and I was disgusted.”
But a Franciscan friar who has become Phallen’s spiritual adviser said the former atheist found God after his suicide attempt in jail during Thanksgiving week.
“He had one of those near-death experiences,” Father Francis Pompei said. “He was asking God to take him … He heard a voice telling him, ‘You have to go back and fulfill his promise of resurrection, rehabilitation and healing. And that’s for the victims, too.’ ”
It was a morning of high emotion Thursday as Phallen was sentenced for torturing three women.
The women were strippers from area clubs who were paid to go to Phallen’s Lewiston townhouse to have sex with him. Defense attorney James.W. Grable Jr. told reporters the payments were “four figures.” “What started as consensual behavior became an assault.”
It could be said that is putting it mildly.
“I was dangling from what he called a hangman’s noose,” one of the women said in court. “I had to watch myself slowly not breathing and wondering, ‘Would my children know I loved them?’ In the mirror behind me, he was staring … as my face turned blue and I stopped breathing.”
She added, “The other scariest moment was when he was beating me for an hour,” including attacking her with pliers.
“I couldn’t use my arm or my hand for over a month,” another victim said. “I still have facial scars.”
The woman said she was bruised so badly she couldn’t go back to exotic dancing, which was her only line of work at the time. When she finally went back on stage, she suffered panic attacks.
She said she lost her job and her apartment, and lived with her parents for a time, until they kicked her out.
The other victim told Sheldon, “My own adoptive parents disowned me because of this.” She said she is undergoing psychiatric treatment for “multiple disorders which affected my schooling and the ability to take care of my children.”
Sheldon told the attorneys, “There is an agreed-upon sentence, which you all know I didn’t think was enough.” But the judge said she approved it “in courtesy to the victims who didn’t want to go to trial, and I can understand that.”
The victim with children said, “I agreed to 14 years (as the sentence) because I didn’t want to go to trial and I didn’t want those girls to relive what we went through.”
Assistant District Attorney Peter M. Wydysh said the most striking part of the interviews with the women was the claim that each of them reported that there had been more victims before them.
The first woman to report to police said she was assaulted on the night of Sept. 25-26, 2014. “She said that he told her she was No. 21,” Wydysh said. The next victim he and Deputy District Attorney Holly E. Sloma interviewed was attacked two months before that, but Phallen told her she was No. 20. Then a third victim, who said she was assaulted in March 2014, said Phallen told her she was No. 19.
“We were stunned,” Wydysh said. “We have no other hard evidence that there were 18 others. We don’t. It may just be a form of mental torture. It just shows how dangerous he is.”
Grable said, “There are no prior victims. There was a thorough investigation.”
Among the supporters of Phallen in the courtroom was Pompei, a Franciscan friar who works in a ministry to the poor in Buffalo and lives in St. Patrick’s Friary.
He attended Oswego High School with Phallen, but hadn’t seen him in 25 years when he read about the case and decided to inject himself into it by registering at the Niagara County Jail as Phallen’s spiritual adviser.
After Phallen tried to kill himself by stabbing himself in the upper thigh and slashing his arms, he was unconscious for two periods of about four hours each, the friar said. That’s when he underwent a conversion.
“He’s moved from being an agnostic or atheist to faith,” Pompei said.
Grable said that since the sentence was agreed upon, the religious awakening “is not something that was designed to curry favor with the court.”
Phallen’s only comment when he was asked to speak was, “Before God, Your Honor, I say I am deeply, deeply sorry, and I pray each day for the healing of my victims.”
The first victim to report the crimes said, “What he did to us is not OK. He can no longer harm anyone.”