Teen pleads not guilty in hate crime

November 24, 2008 3:22:24 PM PST
The alleged ringleader in the fatal gang assault on an Ecuadoran immigrant worker was formally charged in an eight-count indictment that includes second degree murder as a hate crime, as well as additional counts in connection with two other victims. Jeffrey Conroy was ordered held without bail after pleading not guilty in the Suffolk County Criminal Courthouse in Riverhead, LI before a packed courtroom that included relatives and supporters of the suspect and the victim, alike.

The prosecutor characterized it as a very strong case, and quoted Conroy's own statements to detectives in which he allegedly admitted to stabbing the victim, and gathering his friends in the hours before the attack, telling them, "Let's go f*ck up a Mexican."

The prosecutor said Conroy admitted pulling out his knife, lunging toward the victim from five feet away, then plunging the knife into the man's chest.

Conroy's attorney, William Keahon, told the judge that his client is innocent, and that he intends to disprove each of the prosecution's allegations. He insisted Conroy is not a racist because he has any number of supporters of varying ethnicities. "Racism doesn't exist in my client, or they wouldn't be here supporting him," he said.

Conroy's parents said nothing as they left the courthouse.

The new charges against Conroy include attempted assault against the murder victim's friend as well as another Latino man in an earlier, unrelated incident. Both victims escaped without serious injury.

If convicted, Conroy could face 20 years to life in prison.

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