Speaking barely above a whisper as he said "guilty" five times, the last remaining defendant in the fatal stabbing of Marcelo Lucero Wednesday admitted his role in the hate attack on the Ecuadorean immigrant.
Anthony Hartford, 18, of Medford, glanced briefly at relatives sitting in the mostly empty Riverhead courtroom, then pleaded guilty to first-degree gang assault for the Nov. 8, 2008, attack in Patchogue that reverberated around the world and raised questions about ethnic relations in Suffolk County.
State Supreme Court Justice Robert W. Doyle said he would sentence Hartford July 20 to serve no more than 10 years in prison.
With Hartford's plea, all seven teenagers charged with attacking Lucero, 37, have pleaded guilty or been convicted.
Jeffrey Conroy, 19, of Medford, was sentenced May 26 to the maximum 25 years in prison for stabbing Lucero to death. Conroy was convicted April 19 of first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime.
The five other teens previously pleaded guilty to first-degree gang assault and other charges. All are awaiting sentencing.
"It's really sad," Joselo Lucero, 35, Marcelo's brother, said outside court. He said he always believed that each of the seven teens would go to prison for the attack. "All the evidence was right there," Lucero said.
Hartford's mother covered her face with a jacket as she and other family members walked past reporters.
Hartford's attorney, Laurence Silverman of Dix Hills, told reporters Hartford did not intend to seriously hurt anyone when he and six others confronted Lucero and a friend, Angel Loja, near the Patchogue train station.
"He's never denied being involved. He's never denied that it was wrong to be involved," Silverman said. "It never started out as an incident that was ever going to result in severe physical injury" or Lucero's death.
Responding to questions posed by Assistant District Attorney Megan O'Donnell, Hartford acknowledged he, Conroy and five other teens spoke about fighting Hispanics before riding to Patchogue that night in search of victims.
Hartford said Conroy stabbed Lucero.
Outside court, O'Donnell said she believed Hartford sincerely regretted his role in Lucero's death. "I think that he learned a lot during his time spent in jail," she said.
Reached by phone, Robert Conroy, Jeffrey's father, said he would not comment on Hartford's plea.