L.I. Man Gets 25-Year Term in Killing of Immigrant
By MANNY FERNANDEZ
Published: May 26, 2010RIVERHEAD, N.Y.
— The white Long Island teenager convicted of killing a Hispanic immigrant in a 2008 hate crime attack in Patchogue was sentenced on Wednesday to 25 years in prison in a hearing that ended with the teenager’s father leaving the courtroom in a tearful rage.
The teenager, Jeffrey Conroy, now 19, stood next to his lawyer in State Supreme Court here as Justice Robert W. Doyle told a courtroom filled with relatives, friends and supporters of both Mr. Conroy and the immigrant, Marcelo Lucero, that the proof of Mr. Conroy’s guilt was “overwhelming” and that he was convicted of “senseless and brutal crimes.”
The 25-year sentence was the longest possible for first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime, the most serious charge Mr. Conroy faced. Moments after the judge spoke, Mr. Conroy’s father, Robert Conroy, 49, a quiet presence in the courtroom during the nearly seven-week trial, stood up and, cursing, shouted that his son was only 17 at the time.
“This is mercy, for crying out loud?” he yelled from the back of the courtroom as he made his way outside surrounded by court officers, who restrained him briefly after he punched the doors or a wall.
Mr. Conroy was found guilty on April 19 of attacking Mr. Lucero in a train station parking lot in November 2008, one of a series of assaults that prosecutors said Mr. Conroy and six friends carried out as part of an activity that the young men described as “beaner-hopping” or “Mexican-hopping.”
Shortly before the sentencing was announced, Jeffrey Conroy seemed to apologize as he faced the judge. “I’m really sorry for what happened to Mr. Lucero,” he said, adding that every day he wished it never happened.
The defense lawyer, William Keahon, read aloud several of the nearly 100 letters that had been sent to the court from Mr. Conroy’s supporters — coaches, neighbors, and adult and teenage friends who asked for leniency. The letters described Mr. Conroy not as hate filled, but as someone who served as a volunteer mentor and coach to football and lacrosse players.
The letters also noted how Mr. Conroy had numerous Hispanic friends, including the woman he has said he plans to marry, Pamela Suarez, who is Bolivian.
But those sentiments were countered by the emotional words of the victim’s brother and sister.
Mr. Lucero’s younger brother, Joselo Lucero, 35, said that his brother became his role model and father figure after their father died when Joselo was 6. His brother’s death left him distraught, with nightmares and even thoughts of suicide, he said.
“When I found out my brother got killed, my entire life collapsed, and I don’t know what to say,” Joselo Lucero said, adding, “He’s a godfather to my nephew. He’s 4 years old. He never got to meet my brother, his uncle, his godfather.”
He spoke of justice for “the invisibles,” whom he described as the legal and illegal immigrants who come to the United States seeking a better life. “I don’t want this hate to continue,” he said.
Speaking through a translator, Mr. Lucero’s sister, Isabel Lucero, said that she would have wanted Mr. Conroy to be present the day she and her mother learned her brother had been killed, and that she did not forgive Mr. Conroy.
Mr. Lucero, 37, a worker at a dry cleaning shop who had come from Gualaceo, Ecuador, was walking with a friend to another friend’s house on the night of the attack. They were surrounded by the seven young men, all students at Patchogue-Medford High School at the time, the authorities said.
After deliberating for four days, a jury found Mr. Conroy guilty of first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime and other charges, in connection with Mr. Lucero’s death. He was also found guilty of attempted assaults on three other Hispanic men. On the manslaughter charge, Mr. Conroy faced a minimum of 8 years and a maximum of 25 years.
Mr. Conroy received the maximum sentence on all the charges against him, but because the sentences are to run concurrently, and because he has already served nearly two years and will receive credit for good behavior, he could actually serve 18 years, his lawyer said.
Mr. Conroy is appealing the conviction. He testified that he lied to the police when he told them he stabbed Mr. Lucero because he wanted to protect another teenager, whom he said had confessed to him to stabbing Mr. Lucero.
Bloodstains on the knife that the police found on Mr. Conroy, as well as on the gray tank-top and the jeans he wore, matched Mr. Lucero’s DNA.
Before the sentencing, the idea of healing and forgiveness seemed a kind of backdrop to the proceedings. Mr. Lucero’s mother, Maria Rosario Lucero, had spoken in the past of asking God to forgive Mr. Conroy.
In recent days, Mr. Conroy’s father had reached out to the Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter, the pastor of the church where Mr. Lucero’s funeral was held, the Congregational Church of Patchogue, and asked him to arrange a private meeting between the Conroy and Lucero families. Although that meeting had not happened, Mr. Wolter was optimistic that it would.
Following the sentencing and Robert Conroy’s outburst, the pastor said he was frustrated that the process of reconciliation had taken several steps back.
“It’s more polarized now than it was the day of the funeral,” said the Rev. Wolter, the author of three books on forgiveness. “I feel sick to my stomach because of the rage, the pain, the lack of any kind of closure.”http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/27/nyreg ... hogue.html