Teenager Convicted of Hate-Crime Manslaughter, Gang Assault, Conspiracy

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A Long Island teenager has been convicted on several charges relating to the hate-crime stabbing of an Ecuadorean immigrant.

Jeffrey Conroy pleaded not guilty to murder and manslaughter as hate crimes, as well as additional charges. The trial was one of seven stemming from the November 2008 death of Marcelo Lucero, a 37-year-old whom prosecutors said was targeted because he was Hispanic. Conroy and the six other perpetrators attacked Lucero during a night of “beaner hopping” or “Mexican hopping” –their terms for seeking out Hispanics and engaging them in violent fights.

Although Conroy was found not guilty of murder as a hate crime, he was found guilty on several other counts, including manslaughter as a hate crime, gang assault, conspiracy and three charges of attempted assault in other cases. Prosecutors said that he was the only one out to face murder charges because he was the one who actually stabbled the victim.

Lucero was walking, along with his friend Angel Loja, near a train station in Patchogue in November 2008 when the two were assaulted by the teenagers, who began yelling slurs and punching them. Lucero and Loja fought back, swinging their belts; when Conroy was hit in the head with Lucero’s belt, he lost his temper and fatally stabbed the man in the chest.

The death of Lucero has prompted an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into hate crimes on eastern Long Island, and authorities’ handling of those crimes. A report issued by the Southern Poverty Law Center found widespread, low-level harassment of Latinos in Suffolk County, including being taunted, spit on, run off the road, beaten with baseball bats, shot with BB guns or the target of thrown items such as fruit, soda cans and beer bottles.

Prosecutors in the Conroy trial said that when Hispanic immigrants are in the country illegally, they may be reluctant to report hate crimes to the police, fearing that authorities will learn their immigration status and deport them; the teenagers knew that immigrants would therefore be easy targets.

Four other teenager have pleaded guilty to hate crime-related charges, and two are still awaiting trial.

Conroy took the stand in his own defense, claiming under oath that although he was involved in the attack, he was taking the fall for one of the other young men, whom he had met just that evening. Some of the alternate jurors, who were released from duty before deliberations began, have gone on record saying that attempting to shift blame onto someone else may have damaged Conroy’s case.

Jurors had the option of convicting Conroy on murder or manslaughter as hate crimes, and of convicting him on either charge without the hate crime aspect.

 

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