Marcelo Lucero documentary screened at film festival

Marcelo Lucero, 37, was fatally stabbed in 2008

Marcelo Lucero, 37, was fatally stabbed in 2008 during a racially-motivated attack in Patchogue by seven teenagers. Jeffrey Conroy, 17 at the time, of Medford, was convicted of first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime and is serving a 25-year sentence in prison. The others are serving sentences between 5 and 8 years. (Credit: Handout)

In a barbershop in Patchogue, a group of young men -- barbers and their customers -- talk casually about the hate-crime killing of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero.

They talked about the seven boys involved in the crime and speculated about their motives: they were probably just out to score a few bucks, one said, when things went very wrong.

They called it “beaner hopping,” the act of searching for a Hispanic immigrant to beat up and sometimes rob -- the act that killed Lucero in 2008.


MORE: Complete coverage of Marcelo Lucero case
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“It wasn’t the first time that happened,” one said. “And it won’t be the last.”

The scene was one of many included in the documentary “Deputized: Como pudo hacer (How could this happen)?” , which offered a closer look at the killing and painted a portrait of the community in which it happened.

Lucero was 37 on the night he was killed, which started with seven teenagers meeting in a park to drink and go “beaner hopping.” The night ended when the boys found Lucero, who fought back when attacked and was fatally stabbed by one of the teens, Jeffrey Conroy, who was 17 at the time.

Conroy, of Medford, was convicted of first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime and is serving a 25-year sentence in prison. The others are serving sentences between 5 and 8 years.

Lucero, who worked at a laundromat, came to the United States to work when he couldn’t afford food for his family in Ecuador, said his sister, Isabel Lucero, in the film. He worked hard and hoped to one day achieve the “American Dream” -- a home with a wife and kids.

But Lucero’s narrative is the most-well known in the highly publicized case, and filmmaker Susan Hagedorn wanted to look at all angles of the killing. In the more than three years she and her daughter, co-producer Hope Reeves, worked on the film, they interviewed a cross-section of people, including students from the Patchogue-Medford School District, and experts who said anti-immigration messages conveyed by politicians deepen the divide between races.

Hagedorn said that during the making of the film, she learned that the incident created more than just one victim.

“Marcelo Lucero was the first victim of this crime,” said Hagedorn, who lives in Brooklyn but grew up in Port Washington. “But there is so much pain to go around that it’s hard not to see that everyone is suffering.”

The 84-minute film, which was screened Sunday at the Hamptons Take 2 Documentary Film Festival, painted a portrait of Patchogue in 2008 as a highly segregated community, with the school district as no exception. Students at the school admitted that racial slurs were shouted through the halls, and the hallway where English as a Second Language classes were taught was like a battleground with whites, blacks and Hispanics all defending their own.

Nearly 100 people attended the event, which was met with applause as filmmakers took the stage for a Q&A after the screening. Members of the Conroy family, the Lucero family and the family of Chris Overton, another teen charged in the crime, attended and sat separately.

Joselo Lucero, Marcelo Lucero’s brother who was featured in the film, attended the event but left during the Q&A and declined to comment.

Nick Borgia, who often hung out with Conroy and his friends, said in the film that the only thing unusual about that night was that someone died. Otherwise, he said, that kind of thing happened all the time.

“I could have easily been there,” he said.

And then there were the Conroys, whose stories are less well-known because they have kept quiet until after the trial.

In the film, Jeffrey Conroy was interviewed from the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate Dannemora in 2010. He was unable to talk about the case because he is appealing his conviction, but when asked what he might have done differently, he said: “pick better friends, listen to my dad’s advice better.”

The documentary also featured interviews with Will Garcia, a former classmate of Conroy’s who called him a friend.

Garcia, who is Ecuadorean, said Conroy used to stick up for him in school when others gave him a hard time.

Conroy's father, Bob Conroy, of Medford, talks in the documentary about the demonization of his son before he even stood trial, and also of the families of those involved.

In the film, he goes through his son’s room, shows off shelves full of sports trophies and a picture of his son’s girlfriend, who is Hispanic and whom Bob Conroy said is now “like my daughter-in-law.”

After the screening, an emotional Bob Conroy said filming the documentary served as “a healing process” for him and he was grateful he got the opportunity to show another side of his son and the entire incident.

“In the beginning, you do what your lawyers say and keep your mouth shut,” he said. “But now I just wanted them to see the other side of Jeff. I think it did portray Jeff in a more human light.”

Steve Politi, an attorney who represented Kevin Shea, another one of the convicted teens, attended the screening and afterward said he thought the filmmakers did a “fantastic” job at covering the deeper issues involved.

Politi said he also works for the Legal Aid Society, representing people who cannot afford attorneys, and that he regularly witnesses the “systematic discrimination of Hispanics.”

“It hasn’t stopped,” Politi said.

Pamela Greinke, of Southampton, who attended the screening, said she was moved to tears throughout the film. She said even in her own community, where she teaches ESL and is active in the Hispanic community, racism exists.

“This film and seeing him,” she said of Bob Conroy, whom she spoke with after the filming, “brought a much more human and well-roundedness to the issue.”

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