Even before Cantor Howard Nevison’s trial begins, the defense and the prosecution are clashing over the case’s timing.
Nevison, who is employed by Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan, was arrested last month on charges that he sexually abused his young nephew, the son of the clergyman’s brother.
Another Nevison brother was found guilty of abusing the same boy and is serving time in a Pennsylvania state prison. That man’s son, a cousin of the victim, pleaded guilty on similar charges and is now out on parole.
Their cases were initiated three years ago in the Pennsylvania county where the boy lives.
Prosecutors say they waited to move on the charges against the cantor until the boy, who is now 12 years old, was ready to testify in court.
The boy, who according to an affidavit was sexually molested by his uncle from the age of 3, was terrified of him, according to prosecutors — more frightened of him than of his other uncle and cousin.
“The decision not to charge Howard Nevison three years ago was right,” said Ralph Jacobs, his attorney. “Certainly if the boy was able to testify in two different court proceedings three years ago, we think there’s absolutely no basis for any kind of concern like that. That excuse rings hollow to us.”
“Well, so much for the rules of professional conduct and not commenting on the credibility of witnesses,” said Risa Vetri Ferman, the first assistant district attorney for Montgomery County, Pa., who is prosecuting the case.
When prosecutors first presented the case three years ago, when the alleged victim was 9, “We had specific reasons [for not moving against Cantor Nevison] that had to do with the child, and his relationship with and intense fear of this defendant,” Ferman said.
The boy will testify against Nevison at a preliminary hearing set for April 17.
Though now “he’s ready to testify in court, no one should mistake that for this being an easy undertaking,” said Ferman. “This will be very difficult for him and his family to deal with. He is still very frightened and that’s unlikely to go away.”
Temple Emanu-El officials are still not speaking publicly about the cantor, though he did tell them something about the impending charges some time before he was arrested.
The congregation’s rabbi, Ronald Sobel, who shortly before the cantor’s arrest announced that he is retiring this spring, has declined to respond to written questions. He also has refused repeated requests for an interview.