In Patchogue, villagers look to heal, move on

Patchogue resident Maurico Ramon reacts to the Jeffrey Patchogue resident Maurico Ramon reacts to the Jeffrey Conroy verdict, Monday. (April 19, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

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Many in the Patchogue community said they wanted to move on after nearly a year and a half of soul-searching over being portrayed as a place synonymous with hate crime.

"Patchogue has done so much to improve its downtown and become a better place to live, and outsiders need to see that people of different backgrounds almost always get along well here," said Raina DeDilectis, 33, a registered nurse.

Like many residents who strolled Main Street Monday, she said she was angry at Jeffrey Conroy, 19, who had just been found guilty of first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime in the death of Marcelo Lucero.

"I don't think 25 years in prison is enough," she said, referring to the maximum sentence Conroy could serve on the top charge.

The jury acquitted Conroy of murder. Several Patchogue residents disagreed with that finding.

"Whatever you call it, it was murder," said DeDilectis' husband, Frank, 32, a Social Security examiner. He suggested that town hall have meetings and "conversations involving all sorts of people in Patchogue so we can understand each other's backgrounds."

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At the Congregational Church of Patchogue, the Rev. Dwight Wolter said the village needed to recover from the "residue" of the killing.

"Now the real work begins," he said. "How can we rebuild from this? How can we get those from two sides of the aisle in the courtroom to work together? What sort of lessons can we pull out of this so that other places look at us as a model?"

Mayor Paul Pontieri echoed the views of many on Main Street. "This community, Patchogue-Medford, has been changed forever" by the tragedy and the negative publicity that followed. "Hopefully what comes out of this is a better understanding of how we handle diversity."

At the village's train station, Anthony Monzon, 20, a Dowling College student from Patchogue, said he was glad that Conroy had been convicted. "But the verdict was a little lenient for an unjustified killing," he added.

Several residents, including the mayor, described the verdict as a warning to anyone considering a hate crime. "That this was decided as a hate crime was extremely important so that everyone knows it's not going to be tolerated in this community, in this town, in this county."

Latinos, though, were skeptical. "People can talk of change, but a lot of us are still going to feel kind of terrorized when we walk the streets," said Sergio Celi, 26, who, like Lucero, is an immigrant from Ecuador. Celi said he studied electrical engineering at home, but came to the United States illegally, looking for any work because he needed to support his family.

"This might slow down hate crimes, but it won't stop them," said Mauricio Ramon, 37, also from Ecuador, who knew Lucero. Ramon said that he, too, hopes for a day when people of different races and nationalities can co-exist in Patchogue "without making assumptions on each other because of appearances."

"I feel bad for Conroy," he said. "He is a kid who ruined his life. And no matter what that jury decided, it wasn't going to bring Marcelo back here to us."

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