Suspect in New Square religious attack pleads not guilty

An 18-year-old Hasidic student pleaded not guilty today to attempted murder charges for allegedly lighting a father of four on fire in New Square.

Shaul Spitzer is accused of severely burning a neighbor, Aron Rottenberg, outside Rottenberg's home. Rottenberg claims in a lawsuit that Spitzer was acting at the direction of the village's grand rabbi, David Twersky, because Rottenberg had stopped praying at Twersky's synagogue and instead began worshipping at a nursing home.

Rottenberg suffered third-degree burns on half his body in the pre-dawn hours of May 22 when he confronted someone carrying a flammable liquid outside his home.

Rottenberg, who was hospitalized until Monday, was not in court Friday.

Spitzer was accompanied by relatives as he was arraigned in Rockland County Court on charges of attempted murder, attempted arson and assault.

His lawyer, Kenneth Gribetz, entered not guilty pleas to all charges. He says his client is full of regret and wishes he could turn back the clock.

Gribetz said outside court that Spitzer did not intend to harm anyone or to burn down Rottenberg's house, as police have alleged.

Spitzer was allowed to remain free on $300,000 bail until a July 28 court date, but was ordered to stay away from the Rottenberg family. If convicted, he could face up to 25 years in prison.

Associated Press reports contributed to this article.

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