In reaching verdict, there was no question about hate
The jury asked for a lot during three-plus days of deliberations. Exhibits. Testimony. And, several times, legal definitions on everything from intent to manslaughter.
But not once did jurors seek clarification of hate.
They knew what hate was and could sift it out from examination and cross-examination of witnesses, and from physical evidence that included two knives and the shirt Marcelo Lucero was wearing when he died.
For the most serious charges on which the jury convicted Jeffrey Conroy - first-degree manslaughter and three counts of attempted assault - the panel had the option to convict with or without the additional hate crime designation. They found for hate crimes on all four.
And when their job was done, jurors in the case said that the overarching lesson of the trial - and the subject of conversations they expect to have with friends and neighbors - was not immigration, illegal or otherwise.
"Immigration?" juror Eric Kramer said in an interview, "That's not what I was here for." He said the jury was serious about its job, about working through the evidence to get to their conclusion. "We followed exactly what the judge told us to do," he said. "Nobody thought this was a joke."
Two other jurors, in separate interviews, said that their conversations with family and friends about the case would center not on immigration, but on the topics of children and intolerance and hate.
"They were kids who got caught up in a group together," said juror Mike Engel.
"We believe that the issue of hatred is learned through the family," he said a few minutes later after stepping aside from a phalanx of news cameras. "We're such a diverse group living on Long Island that you have to look at both sides. There should never be an issue of racism."
A third juror, Amy Lester, said, "The discussion will be how do we raise our young children? And how do we end up here?"
She wondered aloud whether Conroy's family knew about his swastika tattoo. And about what was taught in the home about different groups of people.
"Did he and those other kids get their attitudes from nurture?" Lester asked. "Did they get it from nature? There are a lot of kids out there like this."
Conroy's attorney, William Keahon, said last night, "The parents did not know about the swastika. Had they known, they would have had it removed."
As for attitudes learned in the home, Keahon said, ". . . They raised their children to have respect for others."
Lester also said that the issue of hate can't - and shouldn't - be narrowed down to ugly talk or ugly actions against immigrants.
"I think something needs to be done about ignorant people in general, not just those who are anti-immigrant," she said.
"People are people and that's the issue," she said. "That's how we are going to have a healthy Suffolk County."
One, two, three, four . . .
It's been more than two years since I began counting my own footsteps along what I now know to be a 370-foot-long, twisting path that was on the night of the attack stained with Marcelo Lucero's blood.
Monday, after talking to jurors, I returned to the same spot near the Patchogue railroad station - standing alone as a thick knot of cameras surrounded Lucero's mother, Rosario, who spoke of forgiveness.
The verdict should be a beginning, not an ending for Suffolk County. As the jury made clear: On hate, there's work to be done.