Indictment in deadly alleged hate crime

November 14, 2008 9:16:26 PM PST
Seven teenagers accused of a brutal and deadly hate crime have been indicted. They are accused in the fatal stabbing of an Ecuadorean immigrant whose killing has prompted widespread outrage and forced the chief executive of Suffolk County to apologize for calling it a "one-day story."

Marcelo Lucero, a 37-year old immigrant who came to the United States 16 years ago, was fatally stabbed shortly before midnight Nov. 8 during a confrontation with seven teenagers who police said were on a hunt "to beat up some Mexicans."

All seven teens have pleaded not guilty to a preliminary charge of gang assault. Jeffrey Conroy, the 17-year-old high school senior suspected of inflicting the fatal blow, has also been charged with manslaughter as a hate crime.

A spokesman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, who called the attackers "white supremacists," said that Conroy has a swastika tattoo on his leg.

While the grand jury returned its indictment on Friday night, a spokesman for District Attorney Thomas Spota said it would not be unsealed until sometime next week.

The killing of Lucero has sent shockwaves far beyond Suffolk County, where animosity over the influx of thousands of immigrants from Mexico, as well as Central and South America, has been simmering for nearly a decade.

Groups including the National Council of La Raza, Hispanics Across America, Latino Justice and the American Jewish Committee's Long Island Chapter have each issued statements expressing disgust.

Ecuador's ambassador to the United States on Friday issued a statement lamenting the killing just days after the election of Barack Obama as the country's first black president.

"It is tragic that a crime of this nature, a xenophobic lynching, happened just as the United States celebrates a historic step forward in which racial barriers have been overcome," said Ambassador Luis Gallegos.

On Thursday, Jorge Lopez, Ecuador's consul general in New York, met privately with Spota. Although both parties agreed to not comment on specifics of the conversation, Lopez had earlier expressed hope that murder charges would be filed.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office said the case is being monitored for possible civil rights violations and Gov. David Paterson directed state officials to lend any support possible to assist with the investigation.

Levy, who as county executive has overseen tough enforcement of immigration laws, apologized for comments earlier this week suggesting Lucero's death was blown out of proportion by the local media because of his outspoken views on illegal immigration.

After saying it would be "a one-day story" if it had occurred elsewhere, Levy apologized in a letter published Friday in Newsday.

"It was absolutely the wrong time for me to suggest that coverage of events in Suffolk is treated differently by the media," Levy wrote. "The horrible incident is indeed more than a one-day story. It was a reminder of how far we as a society still have to go."

A wildly popular Democrat who was re-elected last year with 96 percent of the vote, Levy signed a law requiring county contractors to certify that their employees are in the country legally and supported crackdowns on overcrowded housing.

A co-founder of a national group called Mayors and Executives for Immigration Reform, he has appeared with CNN talk-show host Lou Dobbs, another fierce opponent of illegal immigration.

The Rev. Alan Ramirez, who earlier in the week suggested Levy had "blood on his hands" because of past comments and policies, said the apology was "a good first step" toward reconciliation.

Hundreds if not thousands of people attended a candlelight vigil Friday evening near the spot where Lucero was killed.

A funeral service was scheduled for Saturday night at the Congregational Church of Patchogue, after which Lucero's body was expected to be flown to his native Ecuador for burial.

A friend of the teens, who all attend Patchogue-Medford High School, arrived at the courthouse early Friday to offer a different perspective.

"They are the sweetest kids you will ever meet, they really are," said Brittany Callica. "This is so unfair for them. It's not a hate crime, they're not racist. They hang out with Spanish people, they hang out with black people. They're such good kids, they had such a good future and now look."

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