Thirteen blocks from Yale’s Old Campus, a brown house with red shutters sits on a quiet, tree-lined street.
In September 2002, 777 Elm Street was the home of Rabbi Daniel Greer LAW ’64 and the alleged site of the first incident of sexual assault between the rabbi and then-15-year-old Eliyahu Mirlis — a student at the Yeshiva of New Haven, where Greer served as dean.
Mirlis, now 31, filed his initial civil complaint against Greer in 2016. The case landed in federal court due to the split jurisdiction between Mirlis’s residence in New Jersey and Greer’s in Connecticut. A year later, the U.S. District Court of Hartford fined Greer $21.7 million in punitive and compensatory damages. Monday marked the final full day of Greer’s week-long criminal trial, which began Sept. 16 at the New Haven County Courthouse.
Greer initially faced eight charges: four counts of second-degree sexual assault and four counts of risk of injury to a minor. In a surprising moment on Monday afternoon, however, Superior Court Judge Jon M. Alandar dropped the sexual assault charges after the defense moved to acquit because they exceeded Connecticut’s five-year statute of limitations. The charges of risk of injury to a minor still remain.
“That’s what I do with my kids. It’s fine. Don’t worry about it,” Greer allegedly said to Mirlis after their first encounter at Greer’s Elm Street home, during which the rabbi fed the victim nuts and wine and, according to the prosecution, kissed the underage pupil and groped his crotch.
Mirlis’ accusations range from the fall of 2002 to the summer of 2006. The state estimated that roughly 106 instances of abuse occurred during that time.
“It’s a calculated process that ensnares children in a world in which they ultimately become a willing participant,” Assistant State’s Attorney Karen Roberg said of Greer’s alleged “grooming” of Mirlis.
Mirlis first reported the abuse to his lawyer in May 2015, almost a decade after the last alleged incident. Mirlis’ wife testified that he confided in her as early as 2005.
At Monday’s trial, two witnesses for the defense were cross-examined, and both sides presented closing arguments. Several witnesses testified over the course of the trial, including an additional accuser, identified only as “R.S.A.,” whose alleged assault occurred when he was a freshman at the yeshiva in 2008.
A central tenet of the defense’s testimony posited that Mirlis filed a complaint in civil court, rather than in a beth din — a Jewish court — because he sought money, not justice. Mirlis, who manages nursing homes for a living, has an estimated net worth of $47 million.
“It’s all about the Benjamins for Eli Mirlis, right? No,” Roberg declared in her closing statement.
Discussion of Orthodox Jewish communities dominated much of Monday’s testimony. Rabbi Avrohom Notis, who used to run his yeshiva out of Greer’s Elm City facility, answered questions during cross-examination about traditional Jewish wedding practices, the court system and expectations of modesty. He also spoke at length about time he spent visiting young, male victims of sexual abuse at drug rehabilitation facilities.
“You will rarely, if ever, find a kid who was molested by a rabbi and maintains a connection with religion,” Notis said on the stand.
Thomas DeRosa, a former teacher at the yeshiva, also testified to his experience teaching Mirlis. Answering questions from defense attorney Willie Dow, DeRosa described Mirlis as an “uncooperative” and sometimes a “very dangerous” student, who frequently skipped class and refused to sit for exams.
“It would be, in my opinion, a travesty of justice for an innocent person to be convicted for something I don’t believe he did,” Notis told the News after his testimony Monday morning.
Greer declined to comment.
In Monday’s closing arguments, the state spoke at length about the long-term psychological trauma of sexual abuse, reiterating that delayed disclosure is not uncommon. They also emphasized the tight-knit nature of many Orthodox Jewish communities and the highly central role that powerful rabbis play in those communities.
“It would’ve blown him sky-high, and he would be hanging onto driftwood,” Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Maxine Wilensky said in defense of Mirlis’ decision to wait a decade before disclosing the abuse.
The jury began deliberations Tuesday morning and has yet to reach a verdict.
If found guilty of every count — each carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years — Greer could face up to 80 years in prison. The rabbi is 79.
Olivia Tucker | firstname.lastname@example.org