Prosecutors wrap up case against NY teen accused of hate crime stabbing of Ecuador immigrant

By Frank Eltman, AP
Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Teen’s NY hate crime stabbing case heading to jury

RIVERHEAD, N.Y. — An Ecuadorean immigrant broke the rules when he decided to fight back against a gang of mostly white teenagers and ended up paying with his life, a prosecutor said Tuesday in closing arguments in the murder trial of one of the teens.

Prosecutors contend the November 2008 stabbing death of Marcelo Lucero near a train station was the culmination of an ongoing campaign of violence against Hispanics in an avocation the teens called “beaner-hopping,” or “Mexican hopping.”

Since the killing, the U.S. Department of Justice has opened an investigation into hate crimes on eastern Long Island and the police response to such cases.

Seven teenagers were implicated in Lucero’s death, but only one, 19-year-old Jeffrey Conroy, has been charged with murder and manslaughter as a hate crime, among other offenses, because prosecutors contend he was the one who inflicted the fatal blow. Four of the other teenagers have pleaded guilty; two are awaiting trial.

Assistant District Attorney Megan O’Donnell noted many of the Hispanics who had been attacked in the days leading up to Lucero’s killing were loathe to report the crimes to police, fearing questions about their immigration statuses.

She said the gang of Patchogue-Medford High School students approached its assaults with a sense of impunity, confident its victims would remain silent. She alluded to that attitude as “beaner-hopping” rules.

“After you go beaner-hopping, you either go home or go to a party,” O’Donnell told jurors of the teens’ attitudes. “Marcelo Lucero had the audacity, the nerve, to not follow the rules and fought back.”

Lucero, 37, was walking with a friend near the Patchogue train station around midnight when they were confronted by the teenagers, who prosecutors say were strolling around town looking for targets. The teens began yelling ethnic slurs and approached the men. One of the teens punched Lucero in the face. Within moments, Lucero and his friend were swinging their belts in self-defense.

O’Donnell said that after Conroy was hit in the head with Lucero’s belt, the teen lost his temper and pulled out a folding knife and charged at the victim, stabbing him once in the chest before the gang fled. Lucero left a 370-foot trail of blood before collapsing in an alley.

Conroy and the other teens were arrested within minutes a few blocks from the confrontation. Conroy told an arresting officer and later made a five-page statement to police that he was the one who stabbed Lucero. A co-defendant testified at the trial that Conroy had told him within moments of the stabbing that he had inflicted the fatal wound.

That story changed last week, when Conroy took the witness stand in his own defense, accusing another of the teens of the stabbing. Conroy claimed Christopher Overton, whom he had met that night, had stabbed Lucero and Overton asked him to take the blame because he was already in trouble with police. He said Overton also assured him that Lucero was not seriously injured.

Conroy also said Overton had told him earlier in the night that he had a burglary conviction in a case in which the homeowner was killed.

“I felt bad for him,” Conroy testified.

Overton’s attorney has dismissed the allegation as scapegoating by someone facing a murder conviction.

It also was revealed during testimony earlier in the trial that Conroy has a swastika tattoo on his leg. O’Donnell contended during her summation Tuesday that acquiring a tattoo reflected Conroy’s attitudes.

“He knew it was a loaded symbol,” she said.

The jury was expected to begin its deliberations Wednesday.

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