The victims were five in number. Four were boys and one was a girl. Their ages ranged from 6 to 16, the youngest a first grader when Lorenzo Culver Jr. began raping him.
All were preyed upon sexually by Culver, a 46-year-old Bethlehem man who ran what Northampton County prosecutors called a “child sex ring” in which he recorded his crimes on cellphone video.
On Tuesday, Culver was expected to finally face his victims in court, when his long-delayed trial was slated to open. But instead, at the 11th hour, Culver pleaded guilty to each of the raft of child sex abuse charges against him, accepting a 25- to 50-year sentence and agreeing to waive his rights to appeal.
“This is one of the worst cases, if not the worst case, that I have seen,” Judge Paula Roscioli said.
Moments before the hearing began, Culver’s victims and their families filed into the courtroom. A shackled and handcuffed Culver turned to watch them as they took their seats in the spectators’ rows, before a deputy sheriff barked for him to face forward.
Later, as Assistant District Attorney Laura Majewski described the sexual assaults, one of the victims burst into tears, trying unsuccessfully to stifle sobs that caused others in the audience to also begin crying.
“He’s a monster,” the teen, now 19, told Roscioli during an impact statement. “He changed my life dramatically, dramatically, dramatically."
“Words cannot describe the pain that this psychotic child molester did to us,” said the teen’s mother.
The case against Culver was filed by Bethlehem police in 2015 after a yearlong investigation. Initially accused of raping a 12-year-old boy, Culver saw allegations involving four other children added weeks later by police.
According to court records, the sexual encounters stretched from 2011 to 2015 at Culver’s attic bedroom on Ettwein Street. In some of them, Culver enticed the children to have sex with each other as he watched.
The 12-year-old told authorities that Culver claimed he was teaching the boy “how to be a man,” police said.
Merely outlining the charges took Roscioli nearly half an hour. When Culver appeared to hesitate, the judge warned that her patience was thin, telling him that if he was balking, he'd better speak up.
In the end, Culver went forward with a guilty plea under which he won’t become eligible for parole until he is in his 70s. Culver offered no remorse and no explanation, even as Roscioli accused him of acting only to save himself from greater consequences.
“I suspect that you will never see the light of day, and that will be fine with me,” Roscioli said.
Tuesday marked the second plea agreement Culver took, but this time, he was given no chance to change his mind. In March, Culver backed out of the previous one before sentencing, under which he faced guidelines that recommended a minimum prison term of at least 16 years, though prosecutors planned to ask for more time.
Authorities said the evidence against Culver was overwhelming and included the pornographic videos, which captured his voice directing the children on what to do, and also depicted him on camera. If he had gone to trial, Culver risked what would have easily added up to a life term without hope of release, given a prior criminal record and the seriousness of the charges.
Culver also faced a second risk: the possibility of even more prison time for contempt of court. As Culver’s trial loomed, prosecutors said he tried to contact his victims to dissuade them from testifying, using an acquaintance as an intermediary.
In April, Roscioli ordered Culver to have no further contact with the acquaintance, unless it was done through his public defender, Ed Andres. But prosecutors said Culver’s efforts continued, with phone calls from jail recording 171 contacts — each carrying a potential sentence of six months in prison for contempt.
Culver will have to register for life as a sex offender if he ever is released. As part of his plea bargain, he also conceded that he is a sexually violent predator, a designation that carries enhanced counseling and reporting requirements.
Roscioli told Culver’s victims that she hopes the conclusion of the case allows them to begin to heal. She ordered Culver shipped to state prison as soon as possible.
“I want you as far away from Northampton County as can be,” Roscioli said. “These people in this courtroom have a right to have you as far away from Northampton County as can be."
Charged with child sex ring, Bethlehem man pleads guilty on cusp of trial Riley Yates Of The Morning Call September 4 2017Tweet