Opening statements were expected Thursday in the murder trial of a teenager accused of fatally stabbing an immigrant from Ecuador, a case that sparked a federal probe of police responses to hate crimes on eastern Long Island.
Jeffrey Conroy was among seven teens implicated in the November 2008 killing of Marcelo Lucero. Prosecutors say the killing was the culmination of a campaign of violence against Hispanics by Long Island teenagers.
The 19-year-old Conroy is the sole murder defendant. Prosecutors say he admitted plunging a knife into the victim's chest during a midnight confrontation near the Patchogue train station.
He has pleaded not guilty to murder and manslaughter as a hate crime.
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.
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 fightback, flailing at the assailants with his belt. At some point, prosecutors say Conroy plunged a knife into Lucero's chest before running away.