In a tumultuous conclusion to a court case that brought scrutiny to the state of ethnic relations in Suffolk County, Jeffrey Conroy Wednesday was sentenced in Riverhead to the maximum 25 years in prison for the 2008 stabbing death of an Ecuadorean immigrant.
Saying the evidence against the Medford teenager was overwhelming and calling the crime he committed "troublesome," State Supreme Court Justice Robert W. Doyle handed out the strongest sentence he could to Conroy for killing Marcelo Lucero in November 2008 near the Patchogue train station.
Conroy, 19, of Medford, was sentenced to 25 years for both first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime and gang assault. The sentences will run concurrently. The earliest Conroy could be released from prison is 2030.
The sentencing capped a case that drew international media coverage, outrage from immigrant groups that assailed County Executive Steve Levy and that prompted a Department of Justice probe, which is ongoing, into whether Suffolk police adequately investigate reports of crimes against Latinos.
Of the seven teenagers initially charged in the attack on Lucero, Anthony Hartford, 18, of Medford, is the only one yet to go on trial. Hartford is scheduled to return to court June 2, his attorney said. Hartford has pleaded not guilty to gang assault, conspiracy and other charges.
Before Doyle announced his sentence, Conroy apologized to the Lucero family.
"I'm really sorry for what happened to Mr. Lucero," Conroy said. "I feel really bad for what the Lucero family is going through right now. Every day I wish it didn't happen."
Conroy was the first person convicted of a hate crime in Suffolk County in a case in which a person died, according to Spota's office.
"It is important that justice is being served to ensure that there is a forceful deterrent against this horrific type of crime ever happening again in our region," Levy said.
Conroy will begin his sentence at Downstate Correctional Facility in Fishkill for four to six weeks of evaluations and tests to determine where he will be incarcerated, a prison spokeswoman said.
Father shouts protest
As Doyle finished sentencing his son, Robert Conroy bolted from his seat and was quickly surrounded by court officers.
"This is mercy, for crying out loud?" he shouted.
Robert Conroy punched a door as court officers ushered him out. He sat in a room outside the courtroom for about 20 minutes before leaving the courthouse with his family.
"I'm not saying nothing," Conroy said. "Let's go."
Hours later, at his home, a subdued Conroy said he had been shocked by the sentence and said it was "very unfair."
"I never expected the maximum," he said, saying his son was "a good kid" who had been made into a "poster boy" for an "international story."
He said his son had received the maximum because of media attention to the case. "The DAs and judges and everybody, all these politicians were boxed into it," he said.
Speaking in court, Marcelo Lucero's brother, Joselo Lucero, said he shaved his head to look more like his slain sibling. "I don't want someone in the streets hunting down someone because they look different," Lucero said. "I think the change, it has to start today."
The sentence prompted a long-distance war of words between Conroy's attorney, William Keahon of Hauppauge, and Levy, who is running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.
After the sentencing, Keahon said Levy's statements about illegal immigration have "created an atmosphere of hate toward young men and women that come to this country and this county to do jobs no one else will do. . . . I would vote for Mr. Lucero's brother for governor before I would vote for Steve Levy."
Said Levy: "Mr. Conroy has been appropriately punished and Mr. Keahon's comments are as absurd and desperate as his courtroom antics."
Letters sought leniency
Before Doyle issued his sentence, Keahon read some of the more than 100 letters he said were delivered to Doyle asking for leniency for Conroy. One letter was from Conroy's girlfriend, Pamela Suarez, a Latina who said Conroy learned to speak Spanish.
"I believe he deserved a second chance to live his life and all the wonderful things it has to offer," Suarez wrote.
Two Suffolk officials - Legis. Jack Eddington (I-Medford) and his wife, Brookhaven Town Clerk Patricia Eddington - sent separate letters on behalf of Conroy. The couple wrote that they did not ask for leniency, but only talked about their connection to the Conroy family.
"I don't believe in taking one child's life for another," said Patricia Eddington. "I don't think it's appropriate."
In asking Doyle to sentence Conroy to the maximum, Assistant District Attorney Megan O'Donnell said school disciplinary records show Conroy was involved in 24 incidents and had been suspended or held in detention for infractions ranging from tardiness to insubordination.
With Keith Herbert and Rick Brand