Seven teens were arrested, four have pleaded guilty and now comes the murder trial.
In the months since the November 2008 stabbing death of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero on a Patchogue street corner, four of seven teenagers implicated in the killing have pleaded guilty to hate crime-related charges. They admit the assault was the culmination of a year-long series of attacks on Hispanics on eastern Long Island.
The length of their prison terms, which are expected to be long, will be decided after the coming trial of the only teen facing murder charges. Jury selection was expected to begin Tuesday and all four have agreed to testify against their friend.
Prosecutors contend Jeffrey Conroy plunged a knife into Lucero's chest as the 37-year-old dry cleaner flailed his belt in self-defense, surrounded by a mob at the Patchogue train station. Conroy, 19, of Medford, has pleaded not guilty to murder, manslaughter and hate-crime charges.
A Southern Poverty Law Center study found in September 2009 that anti-Hispanic sentiment had been growing in Long Island's Suffolk County for about a decade. As far back as 2000, two Mexican laborers were lured to an abandoned warehouse, where they were nearly beaten to death with shovels.
But the Lucero killing put a national spotlight on the community's race relations, prompting a U.S. Justice Department a probe of hate crimes and police response to them; that investigation is ongoing.
Starting late last year, prosecutors have methodically paraded some of the teenagers involved in the killing before state Supreme Court Justice Robert Doyle. Four have told the same story about an ongoing campaign of abuse against those they perceived to be Hispanic, culminating near midnight on Nov. 8, 2008.
Lucero, 37, came to the United States when he was 21. He was walking with a friend near the Patchogue train station when they were confronted by a mob of teens. His friend ran away, but Lucero was surrounded. He tried to fight back.
At some point, Conroy allegedly plunged a knife into Lucero's chest before running away.
"I stabbed him,'' Conroy reportedly told police moments after the killing while they frisked him blocks away.
Last month, Doyle said Conroy's comments would be admissible at his trial. Doyle ruled that Conroy blurted out the admission while being searched for a knife and that "traditional Miranda warnings were not required.''
The four teens who have pleaded guilty confirm that Conroy was the one with the knife.
Nicholas Hausch says he urged Conroy to throw away the knife as they and five others ran from the scene. Hausch has pleaded guilty to hate crime charges.
Conroy insisted he had washed the blood off the weapon in a puddle, but Hausch said he doubted they could fool authorities so easily. "I said, 'We're not going to get away with it.'''
Conroy's attorney, William Keahon, did not return repeated telephone messages seeking comment.
"From the outside, it appears that this is a very difficult case,'' conceded longtime defense attorney Stephen Scaring, a former prosecutor who is not connected to the case.
He said Keahon's opening statement to the jury should provide an idea about a defense strategy.