A dying Ecuadorean immigrant, stabbed in a brutal encounter with a pack of teenagers in Patchogue, spoke his last words to his childhood friend on an autumn night in 2008, saying, "Angel, call the ambulance; I'm bleeding a lot."
Angel Loja told a state Supreme Court jury in Riverhead Wednesday that his friend, Marcelo Lucero, made the request as blood gushed from his shirt. When he got close to his friend after the struggle, he heard "a sound, a loud sound. It sounded like a faucet running."
Loja, 37, who said he had known Lucero since they were boys in Ecuador, is a key prosecution witness in the hate crime trial of Jeffrey Conroy, 19, of Medford, who faces charges of second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter in the stabbing death of Lucero on Nov. 8, 2008.
Conroy, the only person charged with the fatal stabbing, has pleaded not guilty. Loja was not asked to identify Conroy in court.
Loja appeared unflappable throughout his testimony. In the afternoon during cross-examination, defense attorney William Keahon of Hauppauge hammered at him repeatedly, eventually forcing Loja to admit that some portions of his testimony differed from what he had told a grand jury.
Loja, speaking in Spanish through an interpreter, gave a chilling account of Lucero's death.
Testifying publicly for the first time, Loja said when he saw the teenagers approaching on a Patchogue street, he knew "they didn't have good intentions."
Loja said six of the teenagers were "white-skinned" and one "had darker skin."
"I said 'Marcelo, let's be careful,' " Loja said under questioning from Assistant District Attorney Megan O'Donnell.
Suddenly, the teenagers started shouting racial slurs and vulgarities, Loja said, and yelled that the two men were "illegals who come to take our money from us."
Loja said when one teenager asked Lucero for money, he replied, "Why don't you guys go to work like I go to work so you can have money?"
The gang punched and kicked Lucero, Loja said. Loja said he was able to back away and ended up about 20 feet away from the group.
Then, Loja said, as the teens backed off a bit, Lucero got up from the ground, wrapped his jacket around one arm to protect it, took his belt off and started swinging it at the teenagers.
Loja pulled his belt off too, in an attempt to help Lucero.
Loja, who did not see the stabbing, said that after the men ran away, his friend came up to him bleeding and told him to call an ambulance.
Those were Lucero's last words to him, said Loja, who ran to the nearby house of a friend, Elder Fernandez, and told him to call 911.
The police came about five minutes after the 911 call. Soon after that, Loja was taken in a police car to Ocean Avenue and Main Street, where officers had stopped seven teens.
Loja said he identified them as the youths who had attacked him and Lucero.
At one point during cross-examination, Keahon asked Loja why he told a detective that six or seven teens attacked Lucero but later said it was seven.
Loja blamed some of his differing statements in part on faulty translations or the failure of law enforcement personnel to write down everything he said.
Keahon also asked Loja about Lucero swinging his belt, scaring the teenagers off and causing them to run.
Loja admitted to Keahon that he had used phony documentation with a different name and age up until recently.
He said friends told him to do that when he came to the United States illegally in 1994.
Keahon also asked Loja about his ability to speak English and about English classes he had taken.
Loja said he doesn't speak English well enough to speak at length.
Keahon, insisting that Loja understands English, said outside court he wanted to show Loja's use of a translator was a prosecution tactic to "slow down the cross-examination."