The Long Island teenager charged with manslaughter as a hate crime has taken the stand to testify in his own defense.
Jeffrey Conroy, who has pleaded not guilty, was testifying Thursday.
Conroy was among seven teens implicated in the November 2008 killing of Marcelo Lucero, but he is the sole murder defendant. Prosecutors say the killing was the culmination of a campaign of violence against Hispanics by Long Island teenagers.
Conroy, who previously admitted to the killing near the Patchogue train station in a five-page written statement, now says it was another teen that was actually responsible for the murder. Conroy says one of the other defendants, Chris Overton, 17, stabbed Lucero and then gave the knife to Conroy and asked him to protect him because Overton was already facing charges in a home invasion murder case.
Overton has pleaded not guilty to gang assault and other charges and is awaiting trial. Prosecutors say Overton and Conroy only met days before Lucero's killing -- making it even more unlikely Conroy would be willing to take the blame for such a serious crime.
On Wednesday, the presiding judge permitted prosecutors to ask Conroy about statements made to jail officials. They say he claimed he was raised in a racist household and followed white supremacist Websites.
It was revealed during previous testimony that Conroy has a swastika tattoo on his leg.
Lucero, 37, came to the United States when he was 21. He was walking with a friend when they were confronted by a mob of teens near midnight, just steps from the railroad station. His friend fled, but Lucero was surrounded, prosecutors say. He tried to fight back, flailing at the assailants with his belt. At some point, prosecutors say Conroy plunged a knife into Lucero's chest before running away.
Prosecutors contend the teenagers targeted Hispanics for more than a year. The four teens who pleaded guilty to hate crime-related charges admitted participating in assaults on Hispanics before the Lucero killing, attacks they euphemistically referred to as "beaner-jumping.''
Some of the attacks, including a drive-by shooting of an Hispanic man with a BB-gun, happened the day Lucero was slain, say the four who pleaded guilty. In an important pretrial ruling, Doyle said Conroy's statements to police after he and his friends were arrested would be admissible at trial.
In October, the U.S. Justice Department opened an investigation of hate crimes in Suffolk County and police response to them. Latino advocates had complained that prior assaults on Hispanics had not been treated seriously by the police.
After Lucero's death, dozens of Hispanics attended a community meeting at a Patchogue church, where they shared stories of assaults and other insults. Some said they feared reporting the crimes to police because of their undocumented status. Others said they did report incidents to police, but the response was tepid at best.
Police officials, who disputed those claims, are cooperating with the ongoing investigation, Justice Department spokesman Alejandro Miyar said Wednesday.