Lawyer in NY hate crime trial says prosecution witnesses didn’t see stabbing

By Frank Eltman, AP
Monday, April 12, 2010

Closing arguments start in NY hate crime trial

RIVERHEAD, N.Y. — The lawyer for a Long Island teenager accused in the hate crime stabbing of an Ecuadorean immigrant told jurors Monday that his client didn’t inflict the fatal blow and that even if they found him culpable, the crime didn’t rise to the level of intentional murder.

Attorney William Keahon contended that after four weeks of testimony by 25 prosecution witnesses, none testified that they had seen Jeffrey Conroy inflict the stab wound that killed Marcelo Lucero.

Conroy, 19, is one of seven teenagers implicated in the November 2008 stabbing, but the only one charged with murder and manslaughter as a hate crime.

Prosecutors contend Conroy was the one who stabbed Lucero. They contend the killing was the culmination of an ongoing campaign of violence by the teens against Hispanics. The U.S. Justice Department is investigating whether police on eastern Long Island properly investigated bias crimes before the killing.

Keahon alluded to the widespread notoriety of the case, imploring jurors to keep an open mind.

“You know what the danger is, there has been so much publicity that you almost feel you have to convict,” Keahon said during a three-hour summation. “You owe nothing to anybody, other than to call it as you see it.”

Lucero, whose 39th birthday would have been Monday, was walking with a friend near the Patchogue train station near midnight when they were confronted by the teenagers, who prosecutors say were strolling around town looking for Hispanic targets. One of the teens punched Lucero in the face. Within moments, Lucero and his friend were swinging their belts in self-defense and began to pursue the teens to a parking lot.

Conroy testified on his own behalf last week that another one of the teens, Christopher Overton, had stabbed Lucero, but then asked Conroy to take the knife and tell authorities he was the killer. Conroy said he did so because Overton had pleaded with him, saying he already was facing sentencing for involvement in a burglary in which a homeowner was killed.

Assistant District Attorney Megan O’Donnell appeared dubious on cross-examination, questioning why Conroy would take the murder rap for someone he had just met hours earlier. Conroy said he believed that Lucero had not been seriously injured in the stabbing, adding he felt sorry for his new acquaintance,

While Keahon argued his client was not the stabber, he asked jurors who refuse to accept that argument and believe Conroy stabbed Lucero to perhaps convict him of manslaughter rather than murder.

“It was either a reckless act or an unintentional act,” the lawyers told jurors.

Four of the seven teens implicated in the Lucero killing have already pleaded guilty to hate crime related charges; two are awaiting trial.

State Supreme Court Justice Robert W. Doyle adjourned the closing arguments after Keahon sat down, scheduling the prosecution closing for Tuesday morning.

will not be displayed