The man accused of kidnapping and killing an 8-year-old boy from Borough Park has been found competent to stand trial. The finding was announced by Levi Aron's lawyers after he pleaded not guilty in Brooklyn State Supreme Court Thursday morning.
The chains around Aron's waist and legs softly clanked as he walked into the courtroom in an orange jumpsuit. He kept his head down and did not utter a word.
Aron's defense team has told the court that Aron suffers from certain "psychiatric disorders," including hearing voices and experiencing hallucinations.
His lawyers said the competency determination was made by psychiatric experts at Bellevue Hospital, where Aron has been in custody since his arrest July 13.
Legally, a competency finding means Aron has been deemed to understand the charges against him and the nature of the proceedings. But his defense lawyer Jennifer McCann says they may still bring an insanity defense at trial, after their own psychiatric experts conduct an examination of Aron. An insanity defense, she explained, is different from competency to stand trial.
"When you plead not guilty by reason of insanity, it means at the time that an act was allegedly committed, you did not understand the nature and consequences of the action," said McCann, who recently joined Aron's defense team after another defense lawyer withdrew from the case because he could not see himself representing the alleged murderer.
If jurors accept an insanity defense, McCann explained, it would mean Aron could either be found not guilty or be convicted of a lesser crime because jurors may decide Aron could not have premeditated a crime if he was too insane to do so.
The 35-year-old Orthodox Jew has been charged with first degree murder and kidnapping charges and faces a maximum of life in prison without parole.
In a written statement, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes said "there are absolutely no circumstances which would lead [him] to accept a plea bargain" in the case.
"Now that Mr. Aron has been found fit to proceed we will move forward expeditiously to bring his case to trial," said Hynes. "I want to reaffirm that this case will go to trial."
Last month, the news media widely published sections of an alleged confession by Aron detailing how he suffocated Leiby Kletzky with a towel before cutting up his body.
McCann said because of the heated press coverage on the case, she thinks it will be very difficult to have a fair trial in Brooklyn.
"How are we as defense attorneys supposed to possibly have those statements thrown out and not have a Brooklyn jury pool still have those in the back of their mind when they're voting on guilt or innocence?" McCann said.
Leiby Kletzky bumped into Aron last month when he was walking home from summer camp and got lost. Parts of Leiby's body were found in Aron's freezer two days later. The medical examiner's office said the boy was given a cocktail of prescription drugs and smothered.
Pierre Bazile, Aron's other lawyer, said he had received threats since taking on Aron's representation.
"The rancor should be dialed back and the judicial process should be allowed to run its course. Every individual -- arrested and charged with a crime in the United States -- is entitled to a defense," said Bazile.