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Teens in Satanist case enter plea

By Emanuella Grinberg
Court TV

(COURT TV) -- Two New York teens avoided jail time for attacking a self-proclaimed "card-carrying" member of the Church of Satan by pleading guilty Tuesday to second-degree assault as a hate crime.

Against the objections of prosecutors, Queens Supreme Court Justice James Griffin sentenced Paul Rotondi, 18, and Frank Scarpinito, 18, to 150 hours of community service and five years' probation for the January 9 attack on Daniel Romano in Maspeth, Queens, a quiet suburb of New York City.

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown recommended three and a half years in prison for the defendants, who faced potential 15-year sentences on five counts, including aggravated assault and use of a weapon in the supposedly Satanism-biased attacks.

"The defendants have ... acknowledged that they harassed, attacked and physically injured the victim because he was different from them," Brown said in a press release.

Prosecutors said that on January 9 at about 2:30 p.m., the defendants called out "Hey, Satan," to Romano from a car before getting out and beating him with an ice scraper and metal pipe.

Romano sustained multiple bruises and lacerations and was treated for 12 stitches in the back of his head.

At the time of the assault, prosecutors noted, Romano was wearing black nail polish and an upside-down crucifix, and his hair was dyed blue.

Scarpinito's attorney, Richard Leff, concedes that his client attacked Romano, but denied the incident was motivated by anti-Satanism sentiment.

"The D.A. may call this a hate crime, but really, it's just a case of some kids acting dumb and beating up another kid who was a bit of an oddball," Leff said.

The charges cast unwanted media attention on the Manhattan-based Church of Satan, whose high priest, Peter Gilmore, attempted to distance Romano from the organization in several interviews.

Satanists consider themselves "the most formidable threat to those who would halt progress in the name of spirituality," according to a Web site, describing its members as "explorers on the untrodden paths of science, human motivation and mystery ? all that is most truly occult."

Founded in 1966, the Church of Satan "holds individualism as one of its main values," according to its Web site, and cautions outsiders that they won't find group hugs "as part of the repertoire."

Conspicuously absent on the Web site are references to human sacrifices or other misperceptions of the religion that prosecutors say sparked the attack on Romano, who claims to hold the Church of Satan's "Red Card" of membership.

The defendants will begin their community service immediately and will return in front of Justice Griffin on October 11, when he will formally vacate their plea as youth offenders and impose the five years' probation, considering their progress.

"The judge evidently thought that what they needed was sensitivity training," said Leff. "This way, they do good deeds and help out society a bit."

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