Jose Pacheco is one of seven defendants charged with participating in the hate killing of Marcelo Lucero, and the only minority among the group. He and five others have been held in jail for nearly a year awaiting trial in the closely watched case.
In prison greens, behind Plexiglas, the 18-year-old repeatedly glanced at his mother and attorney during an interview last week as he affirmed his innocence and distanced himself from the six other defendants - all former students at Patchogue-Medford High School. He is the first defendant to publicly speak.
"This isn't for anyone," he said of jail. "I've learned a lot of things. I was with the wrong crowd. Your life can change in two minutes. Two minutes, that's all it takes."
Pacheco denied any involvement in the Lucero attack a year ago in Patchogue. "That was just my ride home," he said.
"I had nothing to do with this crime," he added. "I am innocent. I want the public to know I'm a good person. I'm not a monster."
The conditions of the interview included having his attorney, Christopher Brocato, and his mother, Sherri Pacheco, present. No questions about the attacks Pacheco is charged with were allowed.
Authorities have painted a different picture of Pacheco. They say he and six other teenagers set out to look for a Latino victim on Nov. 8; found Lucero, an Ecuadorean immigrant; and pummeled him before one, Jeffrey Conroy, stabbed him. Brocato said Pacheco - who was charged with gang assault and conspiracy - was a spectator and had no physical contact with Lucero.
In January, authorities charged the defendants with additional counts, alleging that they went on a yearlong crime spree against Latinos. Pacheco is charged with attacks on three victims on Nov. 8 and three other victims from previous attacks dating back to December of 2007.
[jail], I was all over the news, people thought I was a black racist," said Pacheco.
Says gangs threatened him
Pacheco said he was threatened by Latino gangs, whose members spit on him.
Pacheco sees most of the other defendants - only one is out on bail - but says he doesn't talk to them much. "After what they put me through, I'd like to stay to myself," said Pacheco.
Expressing condolences to the Lucero family, Pacheco said he'd like to offer them in person if he gets out. "My condolences will always go out to the family," he said. "I can't begin to imagine how they feel right now, losing a brother, losing a son."
Pacheco spends his days reading books his mother brings him on her twice-a-week visits. He read the "Twilight" series. He's trying to learn Japanese. He plays basketball and goes to a prayer group. He calls his mother every day.
Pacheco said he has three friends who regularly write him letters and visit. Others have turned their backs on him, said his mother.
He said he is nervous about the prospect of a trial. "It's just a roll of the dice," he said. "Your fate is in other people's hands."
If acquitted, he said he wants to move to California. "I don't want to live in Suffolk County," he said. "I want to put this behind me. I will live a more private life. Stay to myself. Look out for me and my mother. That's it."