A jury began deliberations Wednesday in the trial of a former high school athlete accused of killing an Ecuadorean immigrant on Long Island in a case that has led to a federal investigation of hate crimes in the area.
He was implicated along with six others in the killing, but was the only one charged with murder because prosecutors say he was the one who stabbed the victim. Four others have pleaded guilty to hate crime-related charges; two are awaiting trial.
Prosecutors say Lucero's killing was the culmination of a campaign of violence against Hispanics in an avocation Conroy and his friends called "beaner-hopping" or "Mexican hopping."
Conroy, a three-star athlete at Patchogue-Medford High School, admitted to police he was responsible for the stabbing but took the witness stand last week to say he had taken the blame for one of his co-defendants — a teenager he had just met earlier that night.
Jurors will have the option of choosing whether to convict Conroy of either murder or manslaughter as hate crimes; they also have the option to consider the charges without the hate crime accusation. The teenager is also accused of gang assault, conspiracy and attempted assault for alleged earlier attacks on Hispanics.
He faces up to 25 years to life in prison if convicted of murder as a hate crime.
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.
Prosecutors say many Hispanics attacked in the days before Lucero's killing were afraid to report the crimes to police, fearing questions about their immigration status. The teenagers, she said, were aware of that trepidation and took advantage of their victims' fears by operating with impunity.
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, authorities say. One of the teens punched Lucero in the face, and within moments, Lucero and his friend were swinging their belts in self-defense, prosecutors say.
After Conroy was hit in the head with Lucero's belt, he lost his temper and stabbed the man in the chest, prosecutors say.
Three of four alternate jurors who were released from duty as deliberations began said they were inclined to convict Conroy at least of manslaughter. Some also said Conroy hurt his case by implicating another teen at the end of his trial.
"He said nothing to change my mind. I did not believe the story that someone else did it after 17 months," said Cathy Tidmarsh, one alternate.
Another, Cosmos Hionidis, said Conroy "would have been better off not going on that stand and giving us that story."