Long Island teen gets 25 years in immigrant stabbing

May 26, 2010 2:38:47 PM PDT
A Long Island teenager convicted of manslaughter as a hate crime was sentenced to 25 years in prison Wednesday.Jeffrey Conroy was sentenced to 25 years each for manslaughter and gang assault, 1.3 years for conspiracy and 2.3 years each for three counts of attempted assault. The sentences will be served concurrently.

Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Megan O'Donnell had said she would push for the maximum 25 years for Conroy's role in the November 2008 stabbing death of Marcelo Lucero. The minimum sentence was eight years.

Conroy addressed the court before his sentencing, saying, "I'm really sorry for what happened to Mr. Lucero. Every day, I wish it never happened. This whole situation upsets me, and I feel very bad for what his family is going through right now."

After the sentencing, Conroy's father erupted in the courtroom.

"He was...17!" his father said. "This is mercy, for crying out loud?"

Court officers escorted him out of the courtroom, and he punched a wall as he left.

The killing shone a spotlight on race relations on Long Island and led to a U.S. Justice Department probe of bias attacks against Hispanics and the police response to such crimes.

Conroy was one of seven teenagers implicated in the stabbing death but the only one to go to trial. Prosecutors contend Conroy was the one who inflicted the blow that killed Lucero during a midnight confrontation near the Patchogue train station. Lucero and a friend were walking to an acquaintance's home when they were attacked.

"I am just hoping for the best," Joselo Lucero, the victim's brother, said Tuesday after a court hearing where one of the other suspects pleaded guilty for his role in the killing. Christopher Overton, whom Conroy claimed on the witness stand was the actual killer, pleaded guilty to gang assault, conspiracy and attempted assault as a hate crime. He was the fifth defendant to enter a guilty plea.

Jose Lucero and his sister Isabel made victim's impact statements at the sentencing hearing before state Supreme Court Justice Robert Doyle. The victim's mother, Rosario Lucero, also was expected to attend the sentencing.

Jose Lucero said he did not ask for the maximum sentence for Conroy. "Whatever the judge decides," he said. "I just want him to send the right message."

Conroy was acquitted of two counts of murder, including one count as a hate crime, but he was convicted of three counts of attempted assault in an attack on Lucero's friend, as well as two other Hispanic men before the stabbing.

The killing focused national attention on Long Island's Suffolk County, which has seen an influx of immigrants from Central and South America in the past decade. In a September 2009 report, the Southern Poverty Law Center documented repeated attacks on Hispanics since 2000.

Conroy had made statements to police following his arrest that he was the one responsible for stabbing Lucero, but he testified in his own defense at trial that Overton had been the actual stabber.

Conroy explained that Overton, whom he had just met that night, confided that he already had pleaded guilty to burglary in a case where a man was killed and could not afford further trouble with the police.

Jurors said after the trial that they did not believe Conroy's claims.

Lucero, 37, was walking with a friend when the teenagers confronted them. Prosecutors say the teens were walking around town looking for targets, began yelling ethnic slurs and approached the two men. One of the teens punched Lucero in the face. Lucero and his friend swung their belts in self-defense and began to chase the teens.

Prosecutors said Lucero hit Conroy in the head with the belt and that the teen lost his temper, opened the folding knife and lunged at Lucero's chest.