New York Teen Convicted In Hate Crime Death
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There was a verdict today in a vicious case of anti-immigrant violence. A jury in Long Island found a local teenager guilty of manslaughter for the stabbing death of a man from Ecuador. It was prosecuted as a hate crime because when the killing happened, Jeffrey Conroy and his friends were seeking out and beating Latinos.
NPR's Robert Smith reports from the courthouse in Riverhead, Long Island.
ROBERT SMITH: The guilty verdict was the end of a long painful trial for the Ecuadorian family of Marcelo Lucero. They had to listen each day to the story of how Marcelo came upon a pack of teenagers out looking to beat up Latinos, how he tried to defend himself in a parking lot Patchogue, Long Island, how he was stabbed by Jeffrey Conroy.
Marcelo's brother, Joselo, says it wasnt easy hearing the details.
Mr. JOSELO LUCERO: It's something I've got carry the rest of my life. But for that, I got to try to change the stereotype the people think about us, because we are Spanish but we're not animals.
SMITH: Joselo had said before that his brother had been hunted like an animal. Now with this guilty verdict...
Mr. LUCERO: The hunting season is over, at least for now.
SMITH: The trial was also hard on the family of Jeffrey Conroy, the 19-year-old convicted of the killing. Conroy had admitted to police that he stabbed Lucero, though he later recanted that testimony. The jury got to see photos of a swastika tattoo on Conroy's leg. There are testimony about how Conroy and his friends called their hunts Mexican hopping or Beaner hopping.
After the guilty verdict, Conroy's family left the courtroom in tears. One of the jurors, Amy Lester, says the whole situation was difficult.
Ms. AMY LESTER (Juror): It was very emotional. Theres a young kid, there's several young children, there's a family thats grieving and it's very emotional for us. And we had to set that aside and make sure we were looking at the facts and do what we needed to do.
SMITH: The jury spared Conroy life in prison. They decided against declaring him guilty of murder. Instead, they went for the lesser charge of manslaughter as a hate crime.
Another juror, Michael Engle(ph), explained that murder would have required knowing that Conroy meant to kill.
Mr. MICHAEL ENGLE (Juror): You can't put yourself into somebody else's mind and think what they're thinking.
SMITH: Manslaughter still means eight to 25 years in prison for Conroy.
After the verdict, a representative of the Ecuadorian government said they would have preferred a murder conviction. Walter Sinche with International Ecuadorian Alliance said that manslaughter isnt enough.
Mr. WALTER SINCHE (Executive Director, International Ecuadorian Alliance): This is a green light to the hate crimes thats going to keep growing up in the country. The statistics are showing and this is another proof what Long Island is doing is sending the wrong message to the country.
SMITH: The Lucero killing was a shock to this community on Long Island. For a long time there had been simmering tensions over illegal immigration. But the killing showed everyone that it had become violent. After the publicity in the case more immigrants came forward to say that they too had been assaulted.
The U.S. Justice Department launched an investigation of the Suffolk County Police Department, because of allegations that they had been ignoring anti-Latino attacks. But the Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota said that in end, the guilty verdict was a fitting legacy for Marcelo Lucero.
Mr. TOM SPOTA (District Attorney, Suffolk County, Long Island): And that legacy is simply that the law protects everyone, no matter who they are, where they came from, what language they speak, and no matter what their immigration status may be.
SMITH: The lawyer for Jeffrey Conroy says they will appeal.
On the way out of the courthouse, the mother of Marcelo Lucero, Rosario, spoke quietly in Spanish. She said she forgave her son's killer and prayed for him. She said she has no hatred in her heart.
Robert Smith, NPR News, at the Suffolk County Courthouse in Long Island.
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