Marcelo Lucero left a lesson for all of us to learn

+ -

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has ...

Even in death, Marcelo Lucero continued to defend himself.

That was the gist of the prosecutor's closing statement aimed at persuading jurors as aggressively as the defense attorney's closing a day earlier had tried to pepper them with doubt.

"That jury is now the conscience of the Suffolk County community," Thomas Spota, the county district attorney said after prosecutor Megan O'Donnell finished her summation.

Three times, she displayed a photograph of Lucero's body to the jury, saying that Lucero was the best witness to what had happened the night of Nov. 8, 2008, near the train station in Patchogue.

In life, Lucero did the unexpected by defending himself against an attack by a group of teenagers, she said.

In death, the photograph showed Lucero's chest, which bore the wounds that killed him. His DNA was on a folding knife with a 4-inch blade that prosecutors say was pushed into his chest.

Lucero's blood marked the last 370-foot long, winding trail he would ever navigate, O'Donnell said. And his blood stained the shirt of a friend, Angel Loja, who tried to help him and the shirt and jeans of Jeffrey Conroy, who is charged with murder as a hate crime in Lucero's death.

"Marcelo left this for you," O'Donnell said more than once, standing and holding up the photo, the knife and the clothes for the jury to see.

Conroy's future now rests with jurors, who will have to determine whether to embrace the scenario painted by O'Donnell or Conroy's fiery attorney, William Keahon, whose defense strategy rests on twin assertions that Conroy didn't stab Lucero but that even if he did, Conroy did not intend to kill the Ecuadorean immigrant.

But the jury's verdict will not end the case of Marcelo Lucero. Nor will the outcome of separate cases involving two other teens charged in connection with his violent death. Four others already have pleaded guilty.

That's because Lucero left something for the rest of us, too: the opportunity to learn from his death. To dig deep to discern what happened and why.

Pablo Calle, a representative of the Ecuadorean government, said that an essential first step is to break down barriers between immigrants and other communities. Such efforts must extend beyond Patchogue, where, he said, almost a third of the village population is from Ecuador.

"We are working on a few things with local authorities," he said. "We know there are concerns such as too many immigrants living in one house or fear that immigrants are taking jobs, but that can and should be addressed."

Calle stressed that it was important that immigrants learn the way of Americans. But, he said, Americans have to learn to go beyond stereotypes of immigrants, too. He also said that the government has been thinking about extending an invitation to Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy to visit Ecuador.

Asked about whether he would accept such an invitation, Levy's office released a statement saying that he would like to further a partnership between Ecuador and his office, "whether that be through a trip to Ecuador or through constant communications - we're open to all possibilities."

That's a big change for Levy, who has garnered criticism for earlier statements he made about illegal immigrants.

Andrea Callan, director of the Suffolk chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, also was in court Tuesday.

"This horrible thing happened in Patchogue but it is not about Patchogue," she said.

"Suffolk County is struggling with racial and ethnic divisions . . . and while the community has also begun to concentrate on some efforts at combating hate crimes, there is much more that can be done."

The key is to use what Marcelo Lucero left us as a start.

You also may be interested in: