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Judge to view victims' mental health records in Lewiston 'party house' case

A judge said Tuesday he wants to obtain the mental health records of two of teenage rapist Christopher J. Belter's victims to see if they are relevant to the charges against his parents.

Lewiston Town Justice Hugh C. Gee Sr. was at first going to rule against the request from attorneys for Tricia Vacanti, 47, Belter's mother; Gary E. Sullo, 53, his stepfather; and Jessica M. Long, 40, a family friend.

But Brian M. Melber, Vacanti's attorney, talked Gee into changing his mind by quoting September 2018 text messages recovered from the girls' cellphones, in which they wrote that the mental health diagnosis of at least one of the of the girls was obtained when she was in eighth grade. That would be two or three years before the crime dates.

Both of the girls whose mental health records are to be reviewed have filed civil lawsuits against Belter and his parents. One was sexually assaulted in November 2017, the other in August 2018.

The adults are accused of supplying alcohol to teenage girls who attended parties at the family's home on Mountain View Drive on various dates from December 2016 through August 2018.

Belter, 18, pleaded guilty July 1 to sex crimes against four girls on different dates during that period: third-degree rape; attempted first-degree sexual abuse; and two counts of second-degree sexual abuse.

On Aug. 28, Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon placed Belter on interim probation for two years, giving him a chance to earn youthful offender status. If he violates the probation terms, he risks being resentenced to up to eight years in state prison.

One of the victims told The Buffalo News after Belter's sentencing that she had expected he would be incarcerated and said she "felt betrayed by the system."

Melber said one of the girls, called Complainant No. 1 in court papers, admitted to a history of heavy drinking.

"During her freshman year she repeatedly and habitually used alcohol to the point of being, and these are her words, 'blackout drunk,' " Melber said. "For a year, this person went to every social occasion in this condition."

He questioned whether the girl's drinking would harm her memory and make her an unreliable witness.

"There's no indication that treatment has any bearing on the witness' credibility or reliability," responded Holly E. Sloma, Niagara County first assistant district attorney.

"Just because somebody has previously obtained mental health treatment does not mean it's fair game for a criminal proceeding," Sloma said. She argued that treatment would be relevant only if a person had been diagnosed with hallucinations or delusions.

Sloma said she would not discuss the girls' diagnoses in open court.

In Complainant No. 1's statement to State Police, which was partially read aloud in court June 25, she said she drank at the parties from holes in oranges filled with strawberry Jell-O and vodka. She also said she took a cellphone video of her drinking shots with Long.

Gee did not set a date for the material to be delivered or for the sides to return to court.

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