New Haven Rabbi Daniel Greer will no longer face sexual assault charges at his criminal trial after a shocking move by his defense attorney took the prosecution by surprise. Just four of the eight original charges against him remain.
The complainant in the trial, Eliyahu Mirlis, claims that Greer repeatedly raped and molested him when he was a student at the Yeshiva of New Haven from 2002 to 2005.
The state’s case has focused on a time when the accuser was under the age of 16. But prosecutors mistakenly chose a time-barred definition of second-degree sexual assault. Under that provision the offense must be reported within five years to be prosecuted.
After both sides finished presenting evidence in court Monday, Greer’s defense attorney William Dow asked Judge Jon Alander for acquittal based on that provision under the state statute of limitations. After the judge called for a recess to review the clause he dismissed four of the eight pending charges.
Greer now faces four counts of risk of injury to a minor, which together carry a maximum sentence of 80 years.
Judge Alander said it’s undisputed in this case that Mirlis didn’t report within five years of the alleged commission. Mirlis didn’t talk to law enforcement until 2016.
Dow told reporters he and his client “were gratified that the judge applied the law and dismissed four counts that were time-barred." Nevertheless, he said “we’re facing four equally serious charges. I hope the jury applies the law of reasonable doubt.”
Before the defense rested their case, Dow called Thomas DeRosa to the witness stand, a former teacher at the Yeshiva of New Haven.
DeRosa testified that Mirlis didn’t go to class and refused to take exams. After failing Mirlis, DeRosa said he was asked by Avi Hack, the assistant dean, to justify his failing grade. Hack had the grade changed to a B.
Dow’s second witness, Rabbi Avrohom Notis of Lancaster, Pa., said he never met Mirlis, but he knew Greer when he had a school within the Yeshiva of New Haven before relocating to Pa.
Dow asked Notis about the importance of positions of honor that Mirlis gave Greer, making him a witness at his wedding and the designated person to hold his child during his son’s circumcision ceremony. Notis said if the rabbi had sexually assaulted him he’d be considered tainted and the wedding would be invalid.
During closing arguments Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Maxine Wilensky explained the four remaining charges and how they specifically pertain to particular sex acts.
She told the jury to consider that a teenage boy in the Orthodox Jewish community is not the same as a modern teen. She said they’re in an insular community where the rabbi is the center of everything. She described Greer as a powerful and imposing figure.
Dow’s closing arguments focused largely on the fact that Mirlis filed a civil lawsuit against Greer in 2015 before going to the police, stressing the financial settlement. Mirlis was awarded $21 million in the civil case in 2017, which Greer is appealing.
Dow told jurors that Mirlis waited more than 10 years to report the alleged sexual abuse and continued to have a relationship with him even after he was married with a family. He cited multiple inconsistencies in Mirlis’s story.
Wilensky said Mirlis didn’t need the money since he owned 15 nursing homes and is worth $47 million. Wilensky reminded the jury of the testimony from forensic psychologists about how common it is for victims to delay disclosing their abuse and how sexual trauma can play a role in a victim's inability to recall details about their experiences.
Assistant State’s Attorney Karen Roberg said “at the end of the day, look how effectively Greer groomed Eli Mirlis.”
The judge will deliver instructions to the jury Tuesday.