Lucero case: From family tragedy to international story

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The death of Marcelo Lucero was a family tragedy and an international story.

Yesterday, it became Suffolk's first-ever conviction in a hate crime involving a death.

The verdict laid an emotional capstone on the 17-month ordeal that followed the attack.

The outcry after Lucero's death shined a harsh light on ethnic tensions on Long Island, where some Hispanics say they fear to walk the streets.

Learning that the jury, after three days of deliberation, had determined her son's death was a hate crime, Rosario Lucero wept and said, "May God forgive them."

"I'm satisfied," said Lucero's brother, Joselo Lucero, of the verdict convicting Jeffrey Conroy of first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime. "The hunting season is over, at least for now . . . We're Spanish, but we're not animals."

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Conroy, 19, was acquitted of murder; jurors said they did not believe he had intended to kill Lucero.

The Conroy family left the court without speaking publicly, and gathered at their Medford home.

"We thought that both sides needed a fair trial," said one juror, Michael Engel of Middle Island. "I think in the end we made the right decision."

The trial may be over, but some observers said the fault lines exposed by the wrenching crime remain deep and stark. Conroy's lawyer, William Keahon, said he would appeal the verdict.

"They have extracted a tumor, but the illness, the disease, the cancer of hatred in this community will remain, and it will be the responsibility of the political leaders to begin to extract it," said Rev. Allan Ramirez, a Lucero family spokesman and pastor of the Brookville Reformed Church.

After Lucero was accosted by a group of teens who told authorities they attacked Latinos for sport, other immigrants came forward with stories of brutal assaults that they said police had not taken seriously. Protests and vigils followed, with some suggesting that County Executive Steve Levy's outspoken anti-illegal immigration stance was creating a climate of bigotry.

Levy said in a statement Monday that he hopes "the sentence will properly reflect the brutal and blind hatred that was displayed on the night of the murder."

The many accounts of attacks on immigrants in Suffolk prompted the federal government to step in, launching a probe of the county's response to hate crimes. That investigation is ongoing.

In Patchogue, where the death occurred, Mayor Paul Pontieri said, "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."

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