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Shaul Spitzer, Hasidic Man Admits Burning Neighbor In New York Religious Dispute

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By Aman Ali

NEW CITY, NY, Feb 7 (Reuters) - A Hasidic Jewish man from New York state pleaded guilty to assault on Tuesday for setting a neighbor on fire because he wasn't praying with the rest of the community, leaving the man badly burned.

Shaul Spitzer, 18, of New Square, New York, admitted to lighting Aron Rottenberg ablaze after learning that he had disobeyed a prayer order by the Grand Rebbe of the Hasidic enclave about 35 miles north of New York City.

He pleaded guilty to assault in a New York court and faces up to 10 years in prison, although Judge William Kelly said he would likely receive a 5-year sentence.

Spitzer, who worked for Grand Rebbe David Twersky, admitted in court that he used a heavy duty propane lighter to set Rottenberg on fire in May 2011.

He lit him on fire when Rottenberg confronted him after Spitzer had stuffed gasoline-soaked shirts into a bag, lit it on fire and threw it onto the porch of Rottenberg's home, he admitted. The family was sleeping inside, court documents said.

Prosecutor Stephen Moore said Rottenberg spent more than a month in the hospital for severe burns.

Under the plea deal, charges of attempted murder and arson were dismissed. Spitzer could have faced a 25-year prison sentence for those charges. Outside court, Spitzer's attorney Kenneth Gribetz said his client had been trying to cause mischief, not to kill anyone.

"This is a young boy who has no criminal intent," he said. "He's not a criminal ... He should be given a chance to get back on the right track."

Spitzer, who will be sentenced in April, entered his plea on the day jury selection was set to begin in the case. Rottenberg was in court and told the judge he consented to the plea deal.

Court documents said Rottenberg's family had received several threats and had their property vandalized for not praying in the community's main synagogue.

Rottenburg has a pending civil lawsuit against Spitzer and Twersky stemming from the incident. Gribetz said in court a settlement in the $2 million range was under discussion. (Editing By Ellen Wulfhorst and Cynthia Johnston)

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