Witness: LI hate-death suspect had swastika tattoo

A teenager accused of stabbing an immigrant from Ecuador goes on trial in New York. Jeffrey Conroy was among seven teens implicated in the November 2008 killing of Marcelo Lucero .

March 23, 2010 3:25:52 PM PDT
A teenager accused of murder in the hate crime stabbing of an Ecuadorean immigrant had tattoos depicting a swastika and a symbol he said represented "white power," witnesses testified Tuesday. The defendant, Jeffrey Conroy, was watching the HBO prison drama "Oz" in April 2008 when he decided it would be cool to get tattoos, said Keith Brunjes, who described himself as Conroy's best friend. Over the course of several weeks, Brunjes applied a star tattoo to one of Conroy's arms, a lightning bolt on the other arm and the swastika on the outside of his upper right thigh.

Assistant District Attorney Megan O'Donnell asked if they discussed what the tattoos symbolized.

"He just said, 'If I ever go to jail, I'm screwed,"' Brunjes replied.

Alyssa Sprague, 17, said she'd only known Conroy about two weeks before he was arrested. He and another friend were at her house for dinner on the evening Lucero was killed when he showed her the lightning bolt tattoo.

"I thought it was a Gatorade symbol. He said, no, it was white power," she testified.

Defense attorney William Keahon downplayed the significance of the tattoos while leaving court Tuesday.

"It was two young kids acting like jerks," he said.

Sprague testified that Conroy left her home with a knife that another teenager had previously left there. Prosecution evidence indicates the knife was found by a police officer searching a trash can at the location where the teens were arrested, but was not used in the killing. Another police officer has testified that Conroy was carrying a second knife, which allegedly was used to kill Lucero.

Conroy, 19, is one of seven Long Island teenagers implicated in the Lucero's Nov. 8, 2008, death, but he is the only one being prosecuted on charges of murder and manslaughter as a hate crime; prosecutors say Conroy is the one who actually stabbed Lucero.

He has pleaded not guilty and is the first to face trial. Four of his co-defendants have pleaded guilty to hate crime-related charges and could testify against him.

Prosecutors contend Lucero's death was the culmination of a campaign of violence that targeted Hispanic immigrants. Since the killing, the U.S. Justice Department has said it is investigating hate crimes in Suffolk County and the police response to them.

The Southern Poverty Law Center issued a report in September that catalogued a litany of anti-immigrant attacks dating back a decade.

Conroy and his six friends were arrested within minutes of the midnight stabbing, only blocks from where Lucero was killed.

The four teens who pleaded guilty admitted participating in other attacks on Hispanics, confessing they and their accomplices frequently used racial epithets when confronting victims. In one instance, a Hispanic man was shot with a BB gun.

Lucero, 37, came to the United States when he was 21. He was walking with a friend when they were confronted by a group of teens. His friend fled, but Lucero was surrounded, prosecutors say.

He tried to fight back, flailing at the assailants with his belt, before being fatally stabbed.

Later Tuesday, a Hispanic man described being punched and kicked by several youths in the same neighborhood where Lucero was killed.

Hector Sierra testified that he was attacked about 15 minutes before Lucero was confronted. Sierra said he was unable to identify any of his assailants.

Sierra, the head waiter at a Patchogue restaurant, said he was initially reluctant to report the assault to police because he had heard of co-workers suffering similar fates and "nothing ever happened."