In an attempt to persuade a jury that he did not stab Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero, Medford teenager Jeffrey Conroy testified Thursday that he took the blame for a killing he said was committed by a teen he'd met only hours earlier.
During more than three hours on the witness stand, Conroy, 19, said he took a black-handled folding knife from Christopher Overton, 17, of East Patchogue, as the pair fled following the stabbing near the Patchogue train station on Nov. 8, 2008.
He said he agreed to confess to the stabbing because he did not initially believe Lucero was seriously injured and because Overton had told him hours earlier that he had been charged in connection with an earlier unrelated murder case.
"I felt bad for him because of the murder charge he had before him, so I took the knife from him," Conroy said during questioning by Assistant District Attorney Megan O'Donnell. "I figured he only nicked him."
In a case that has drawn international attention, Conroy has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter, as hate crimes, in Lucero's death. The trial is in its fourth week of testimony.
As Conroy testified Thursday, members of Lucero's family - including his mother, sister and brother - were among about 100 people who crowded the courtroom.
Conroy, wearing a white, open-collared shirt in the packed third-floor Riverhead courtroom, figuratively walked the jury through that night, when he was part of a large group of teens who had met earlier at a Medford train station and a park, where they drank beer.
The Medford teenager's version of events differed starkly from that of other witnesses - including prime prosecution witness Nicholas Hausch, 18, who testified earlier in the trial that Conroy had shown him a bloody knife and said that he, Conroy, had stabbed Lucero, 37.
Thursday, Conroy said he had planned to go to a friend's house for a birthday party, but instead rode with six other teens to Patchogue, where police said they attacked Lucero and two other Hispanic men.
"I wasn't going to fight anybody that night, and I didn't fight anybody that night," Conroy said at least three times during his testimony.
No other witness has pinned the stabbing on Overton, who is one of two teenagers still facing trial in the case. Four others, including Hausch, have pleaded guilty.
After the stabbing, Conroy said, Overton approached him as they fled.
"Jeff, I think I just stabbed the guy in the shoulder," Overton said to him, Conroy testified during questioning by his attorney, William Keahon of Hauppauge. "I really can't get in trouble for this. Can you please take the knife?"
Conroy said he then showed the knife to other friends and told them he stabbed Lucero. Minutes later, he said, he told a police officer he had committed the stabbing.
He said he had met Overton earlier that day. Over dinner at Conroy's home, Overton told him he had been charged with burglary in connection with a 2007 murder stemming from an East Patchogue home invasion, Conroy said.
Following Conroy's testimony, Overton's mother, Denise, told reporters it was "horrible, absolutely horrible" that Conroy tried to pin Lucero's death on her son.
Christopher Overton has pleaded not guilty to gang assault and other charges in connection with Lucero's death and is awaiting trial. He had pleaded guilty to second-degree burglary in connection with the 2007 case and is awaiting sentencing.
During questioning by an apparently incredulous O'Donnell, Conroy said he was not truthful when he told Det. John McLeer, the lead investigator in the case, that he had stabbed Lucero. He said he did not write or read the statement he signed for police in which he confessed to the stabbing.
"Do you know what the word 'truthful' means?" O'Donnell asked.
"Yes," Conroy said. "I told Detective McLeer that I stabbed him, but did I really do it? No."