Prison for White raises questions about justice

Daniel Cicciaro, 17, of Selden , was shot

Daniel Cicciaro, 17, of Selden , was shot to death by John White in Miller Place on Aug. 9, 2006. (Credit: Handout / Undated)

Joye Brown

Newsday columnist Joye Brown Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006.

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Why weren't the teens who went to John White's house one night looking for his son, Aaron, ever charged in the case?

The question came up, again, Thursday as White was packed off to prison.

It's a good question, and a fair question. It's one that sounds even more loudly in the wake of the Jeffrey Conroy trial.

In that case - as in White's - a group of teens, fueled by alcohol, went out looking for trouble.

They filed into vehicles and traveled a distance to find their designated target.

They carried weapons - in the White case, a baseball bat, and in the Conroy case, knives, a bat and a BB gun, according to testimony in each case.

They hurled racial epithets.

Yet in the Conroy case, the teens were held accountable for their actions in connection with the slaying of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero and other, previous crimes against men they believed to be undocumented and Hispanic.

In the White case, they've been called to account for nothing. Which ought, at minimum, to be cause for remorse, because their actions cascaded into a series of events that ended with the death of their own friend.

In the Conroy case, prosecutors described the roving teens as a pack. There was no such characterization of the youths in the White trial.

So why were the youths in the White case never held to account?

According to officials and testimony in the trial, the explanation, which hinges on a lack of evidence, goes something like this:

The Whites didn't talk to police that night, so investigators had little information about the teens and their actions on the street outside the White home that night. A canvass of the neighborhood produced no independent witnesses.

The teens, like White, almost immediately lawyered up. And later, several testified for the prosecution during the trial.

It was all by the book, authorities said.

And the facts in the case, according to the highest court in the state, support the jury's finding that John White unintentionally killed Daniel Cicciaro Jr.

All by the book.

Which hardly satisfies White's defenders, who, to this day, assert that he did what he had to do to defend hearth and kin.

Thursday, it was Cicciaro's grieving mother who faced the cameras and said her 17-year-old son was drunk that night. And that he never should have been there. But she pointed out White was an adult who never should have wielded a gun.

White's punishment is jail.

Cicciaro's friends - as even the judge in White's trial pointed out at his sentencing in March 2008 - walked away.

"There are many people who some might call moral accessories in the death of Daniel Cicciaro," Judge Barbara Kahn said then. "These individuals did not hold the gun, but each had a part in this young man's death."

At some point that awful night, aggressors and the targets of aggression switched places.

Everything was by the book.

But was it justice?