Leiby Kletzky wanted to walk home alone from day camp, and one day last summer, his protective parents relented. After all, they lived among close-knit Hasidic Jews in a safe Brooklyn area -- a neighborhood where an 8-year-old boy should have been fine on his own.
But Leiby never made it those seven blocks to a prearranged meeting point with his mother.
On Thursday, a man pleaded guilty to abducting, smothering and then chopping up the boy in a crime that stunned the city and catapulted the insular Hasidic community into the headlines.
Levi Aron's guilty plea, uttered in words barely above whispers, was to protect Leiby's family from having to endure a trial, the Brooklyn district attorney, Charles Hynes, told reporters afterward. Hynes said the boy's father, Nachman Kletzky, had asked if a plea that would guarantee "significant jail time" for Aron could be arranged.
"He convinced me that the family had suffered enough and that it would be an excruciating experience for them if a trial had gone forward," Hynes said. Leiby's parents were not in court Thursday.
Aron, 36, is expected to be sentenced to 40 years in prison later this month. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and kidnapping; originally, he had pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, and his lawyer had been expected to use an insanity defense.
In a Brooklyn courtroom, Aron, wearing an orange jail jumpsuit and a black yarmulke, sat with his hands cuffed behind him. He slumped forward slightly as Judge Neil Firetog went over the charges and at times reminded Aron to speak up so the court could hear him.
Aron's motive remains unclear, but he has admitted abducting Leiby after the boy, who became lost while walking on July 11, 2011, asked him for directions. Aron said that, later, when he realized that a massive search was under way for the boy, he panicked.
By then, the two had spent many hours together. Aron said he had taken Leiby to a wedding north of New York City. He said he had planned to take Leiby home after that, but traffic delayed their return to the city until about 11:30 p.m.
"So I brought him to my house, thinking I'd bring him to his house the next day," Aron wrote in a confession. Instead, the next day, Aron went to work at a hardware store in the same neighborhood where the Kletzkys live. He said he told Leiby he would come back later and take him home.
But Aron panicked when he got to work and saw the police and the "missing" posters in the neighborhood. When he returned to his home, Aron said, he got a towel. Asked by Firetog what he did with the towel, Aron replied with one word: "Smothered."
Then, unsure of how to dispose of the child's body, Aron said he cut it up, stuffed it into a suitcase, and drove around until he found a trash bin. Some remains also were found in Aron's freezer at home.
Police were led to Aron after neighborhood surveillance cameras showed Leiby talking to a man, who turned out to be Aron, and getting into his car. An autopsy showed that in addition to being suffocated, Leiby had been drugged.