Judge has cantor tour jail after getting probation
By Margaret Gibbons
Ardmore Main Line Life, PA
September 21, 2006
A renowned New York City cantor, who once sang for the Pope, Tuesday received a probationary sentence for sexually assaulting his young Lower Merion nephew in the mid-1990s.
But as an unusual condition of his probation, 65-year-old Howard Nevison first had to tour the Montgomery County prison in Lower Providence Tuesday afternoon before returning home.
"If you ever come back on a violation, that is exactly where you are going to go," said Montgomery County Judge Paul W. Tressler.
Explaining he was limited by the law and justice and not guided by either mercy or revenge, the judge sentenced the unapologetic Nevison to 12 years of probation and fined him $4,500.
Another condition of his probation is that Nevison is to have no contact with or be involved in teaching children under the age of 12.
Nevison in June entered an Alford plea to misdemeanor charges of indecent assault, simple assault, terroristic threats, corruption of a minor and endangering the welfare of a child.
Under an Alford plea, Nevison admitted that the prosecution could prove the case against him but that he disputed the factual allegations on which the charges were based.
In return for that guilty plea, the prosecution dropped the two more serious felony charges of involuntarily deviate sexual intercourse that initially had been filed against Nevison, the former long-time cantor at New York's Temple Emanu-El synagogue.
The fact that Nevison had only pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges and had been a "perfect citizen" other than for his arrest on these sexual misconduct charges call for a probationary sentence under state sentencing guidelines, the judge explained.
Nevison, who in the sentencing hearing said he had "compassion" for his nephew but never apologized, declined comment on his sentence.
Instead, a crowd of some 40 family members and supporters who had traveled from New York and New Jersey surrounded Nevison as he left the courtroom, swearing at reporters who tried to ask him questions.
"We are gratified Mr. Nevison is walking out of here today with a sentence of probation," said defense attorney Ralph Jacobs.
First Assistant District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman, who had requested some type of prison sentence, admitted that the guilty plea to misdemeanor charges ties the judge's hands. Her office agreed to the guilty plea to spare the nephew, who is now 17, from having to testify at trial to incidents that began when he was just three years old, she explained. At that time, the family was informed that Nevison might never serve any jail time for the offenses, she said.
After meeting with the family after the sentencing, Ferman said that the family asked her to relate to reporters that they were "thrilled that they can finally put this behind them."
"The young man has lived with this for 14 years," she said.
"What the family views as a victory is that, no matter how Howard Nevison tries to disguise it, he pleaded guilty to being a child molester," said Ferman. "He can dance around it and try and save face as much as possible but Howard Nevison is a convicted child molester."
Two different views of Nevison emerged during the hearing.
The 10 supporters and family members who testified in Nevison's behalf described him as a kind, gentle, decent man.
"His voice stirred the soul in worship," testified Rabbi Ronald Sobel, the former pastor of the Temple Emanu-El synagogue.
The victim had a different recollection of that voice.
"He told me in his deep voice that if I told anyone, he would kill me," the youth recalled.
Initially, the boy said, he had contemplated suicide but ultimately decided he had too much to live for.
"I fought the beast and I won," the victim testified. "I exposed him for the monster he is. Uncle Howard is a coward on every level."
The charges against Nevison stem from alleged incidents of sexual abuse of his nephew when Nevison visited the home of the boy's family for holidays and other family functions between 1993 and 1997 when the boy was between the ages of four and eight.
County and township law enforcement officers first learned of the alleged abuse in November 1998 but no charges were brought at that time because the boy was terrified to testify against his uncle, said county District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr. when announcing Nevison's arrest.
Since that time, the boy has received psychiatric counseling and, in the fall of 2001, the boy's parents and psychiatrist advised authorities that the boy was now prepared to testify against Nevison.
The boy subsequently testified against Nevison at Nevison's preliminary hearing in April 2002 before District Justice Henry Schireson. Schireson ruled that there was sufficient evidence to hold Nevison for trial.
The trial was delayed as a result of pre-trial skirmishes, particularly concerning the issue as to whether Nevison's two brothers would be allowed to testify at the trial that Nevison allegedly sexually abused them when they were boys although no criminal charges were filed against Nevison.
The purpose of having Nevison's two brothers testify, according to an initial filing by the prosecution, was to show that Nevison has a pattern of "violent, forceful and intimidating sodomy of young relatives" under the age of 10.
Tressler in June 2003 ruled that the pair's testimony would be permitted.
Nevison's defense lawyers appealed that ruling to the state Superior Court, which overturned Tressler's decision. The state Supreme Court declined the prosecution's request to hear the issue.