A new film revisiting the killing of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero four years ago in Patchogue addresses a question still on many people's minds: How could such a notorious hate crime have taken place in what the documentary calls "a deceptively peaceful Long Island town"?
"Deputized" -- subtitled "Como pudo pasar?" ("How Could This Happen?") in Spanish -- will premiere Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Hamptons Take 2 Documentary Film Festival in Sag Harbor.
"Our goal was to have people leave the film less sure of what they think than they came in with, so that they can see the other side and realize that it's time to start talking and acting together," said filmmaker Susan Hagedorn, 67, a Brooklyn resident who grew up in Port Washington.
"Deputized" is the first full-length film by Hagedorn, the daughter of late Miracle-Gro founder and philanthropist Horace Hagedorn. It goes over the November 2008 attack, the criminal prosecution and the public outrage that grew out of the crime. The 84-minute documentary digs deeper through interviews with family and friends of Lucero and the teen who killed him.
Hagedorn, who coproduced the film with daughter Hope Reeves, wanted to make a movie about immigration on Long Island before the Lucero killing turned into a story that, she said, "almost begs you to take sides."
Lucero, 37, was walking to his home in Patchogue when he was assaulted by seven teenagers who police said were looking to attack Hispanic immigrants.
When Lucero tried to defend himself, Jeffrey Conroy, of Patchogue, then 18, stabbed him. Conroy is serving a 25-year sentence for first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime. The other six are serving 5- to 8-year sentences.
The case grabbed headlines across the country and became the subject of a play, another documentary that was screened in Patchogue last year, and a novel about teenagers in a similar case.
Hagedorn's film shifts perspectives between the Lucero family and Bob Conroy, Jeffrey Conroy's father, who said he is tormented by what happened and the way his son was portrayed.
"You can never think that would happen to you and your kid until it does," Conroy said in an interview. "Somebody's dead. There's no understanding that can change that . . . but it's wrong to just demonize my son." Conroy said he has seen parts of the movie.
The film also depicts the advocacy of Joselo Lucero, the victim's brother, and the pain felt by his family. Lucero said he had seen the documentary but would wait "for the reaction of the community" before making any specific comments about the film.
The documentary adds the views of community advocates, officials and outside observers, singling out former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, a harsh critic of illegal immigration, for feeding a rancorous debate over the volatile issue.
Hagedorn said she called the film "Deputized" because such fevered talk against illegal immigration "more or less ends up deputizing kids who haven't really developed their minds yet, may be drinking, are not thinking straight and they feel empowered" to take action.
Levy, who was not interviewed for the film, dismissed such criticism as attempts to politicize "a vile act."
"The far left and the illegal immigration lobby relished in blaming this horrible murder on people opposed to illegal immigration, and it's repulsive," Levy said. "Obviously, the blame lies on the individuals who committed this horrible act and justice has been served."
Reeves, a freelance journalist, said the film "shows that this tragedy, made black and white by the media, is, in fact, incredibly complex."
Gilda Ramos, the Spanish-speaking library assistant at the Patchogue-Medford Library who helped to translate the bilingual documentary, said she gained a new understanding from watching it.
Hate, she said, hurts victims and victimizers.
"When you see Lucero's mother weep or his sister cry, or Conroy's father cry, you know that all are suffering because of the hate crime," Ramos said. "Their suffering has no skin color or culture. It's a human thing."