Two days before Christmas, Joanne Cicciaro-Marks had snacks set out for her first-grade ESL students for a class celebration when she got news that John White had just walked out of state prison and was on his way home to Miller Place.
The man convicted in her oldest son's death would spend Christmas with family.
"I was totally devastated and in shock," she said. She said she was unable to function, so her husband, Michael Marks, came to the school to drive her home.
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Last Wednesday, outgoing New York Gov. David A. Paterson commuted White's sentence on a manslaughter conviction in the August 2006 death of Daniel Cicciaro Jr., 17, without notifying his family or the Suffolk County district attorney's office.
Paterson said White's further incarceration would not "serve any public interest." White was released from a state prison after doing 5 months of a 2- to 4-year sentence. Monday, Paterson's office said the governor would not speak about the case.
For Cicciaro-Marks, the numbness that set in after she got word of White's release gave way to anger. No one in the governor's office had called to ask her opinion before the commutation, and White was free. "He took it upon himself to just let him out of jail for time served," she said of Paterson. "How is that right? How is that fair? How is that justice?"
Since his release, White has told reporters he is grateful to Paterson and thankful to be home. Paterson has told reporters he believed he did the right thing in commuting White's sentence and hoped his release would foster understanding and peace.
Cicciaro-Marks said she doesn't feel peace. She wants to speak out about the confrontation in White's driveway that left her son dead of a gunshot wound. After hearing of the commutation, she found Paterson's office number on the Internet and called. After first speaking with the governor's assistants, she and her husband got a nearly hourlong call from Paterson on Friday morning.
On Sunday, she told a reporter she was dismayed by what she characterized as Paterson's limited knowledge of the case. For example, she said he was not aware that White kept firearms and ammunition, which came out during the trial. He appeared, she said, to appreciate only the point of view of White's supporters, who had lobbied to free him.
Paterson left her, she said, with one hope: that he would consider the things she'd told him over Christmas weekend and perhaps be back in touch. She said Paterson "led me to believe" that there may be some action he could take to undo or soften his decision. Monday, his office all but shut that door by saying all commutations are final.
The fatal encounter between White and Cicciaro followed a party in Sound Beach. According to trial testimony, Cicciaro and four friends left the party to confront White's son, Aaron, who they mistakenly thought had threatened to rape a girl at the party.
Aaron White warned his father that the teens were coming. John White emerged from his home with an illegal, loaded, .32-caliber handgun, according to the testimony. Words were exchanged, and according to defense testimony, racial slurs were used.
Cicciaro, witnesses said at trial, slapped at White's gun. The teens testified that White then shot him in the face. White's attorneys argued that the gun fired accidentally when Cicciaro grabbed at the firearm. White, who is black, testified that he did not intend to shoot Cicciaro. His attorney likened the crowd to a Ku Klux Klan lynch mob.
In December 2007, a Suffolk jury convicted White of manslaughter and criminal possession of a weapon. He was sentenced to 1 1/3 to 4 years for the manslaughter charge and a minimum of 2 years on the gun charge, to be served concurrently. White began serving his sentence July 9.
"We thought it was over," Cicciaro-Marks said. "He finally, finally went to jail."
In her talk with Paterson, she said he explained that the judge's decision that White didn't deserve maximum jail time was a "signal" to him that the imprisonment had no continued public purpose. She said the governor described White as a "nice guy" in a difficult spot. At one point, she said he asked whether White had ever apologized for the death. She told him no. According to Cicciaro-Marks, Paterson said he was "deeply troubled" by the lack of remorse that she described.
Monday, she said she has not given up hope that the commutation can be remedied. She said she would be willing to seek help from Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo.
As for Paterson, she said: "He sounded very sincere, that he was deeply troubled. He sounded almost like he was going to find out more. . . . I was left with just that glimmer of hope that something could be done. And that's how I got through my Christmas."