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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Lucero trial is a justice story in any language

The whole world is watching.

That's why Barry Deonarine, a Hempstead-raised attorney, found himself standing in front of a bank of cameras Thursday, answering reporters' questions at a rapid-fire pace about the opening day of the trial in the death of Marcelo Lucero.

He'd been asked by one Spanish-language television network to offer commentary about the law during the trial. Deonarine ended up speaking, in Spanish, to a host of other media outlets, voluntarily taking on the job of explaining the American criminal justice system.

"The concept of a jury is foreign to most South and Central American countries," Deonarine said in an interview afterward.

"There are no juries, there are no oral presentations," he said. "In many countries, the lawyers present their case in writing to a judge, who decides the matter."

What happened inside the courtroom in Riverhead Thursday was far different.

The jury - which has one member who describes himself as having Hispanic heritage - appeared to wear facial expressions from shock to anger at prosecutor Megan O'Donnell's compelling opening-statement narrative about the night Lucero died.

But defense attorney William Keahon did his job as well, beginning by telling jurors, "I saw on some of your faces almost an acceptance of what she was telling you about."

And he went on to pointedly remind them of their oath and implore them to "keep an open mind through this entire trial." When he was finished, some of the jurors' faces were harder to read, betraying more neutral postures.

Deonarine, of Manhattan, knows what it's like to be on the defendant's side of a case. He was one of the attorneys who represented the stepfather convicted in one of the most notorious recent child abuse cases, the death of 7-year-old Nixzmary Brown.

"For me, both as an attorney [and] as a citizen, I want as many people as possible to have an understanding of the legal system," said Deonarine, who learned to speak Spanish in a dual-language program in the Hempstead school district during the 1970s.

"Part of that is that everybody has a right to a vigorous defense and that the defense is going to do the best to represent their clients," he said.

He was supposed to offer commentary for Univision, Channel 41, a network that has the largest Spanish-speaking audience in the nation.

But when he began talking, reporters from other Spanish media outlets joined in and began to pepper him with questions.

"When you have a large contingent of Spanish-speaking press and most of the coverage of the trial is in English, there's a need for someone who can explain what is going on," he said. "I was happy to do that."

He patiently explained the prosecution and defense strategies. And answered questions about whether it really is possible to find a fair jury that has not been influenced by "the community and the press."

For Spanish-speaking media, Deonarine said, Lucero's story resonates around the world because his quest for the American Dream - which so many other immigrants want - had a tragic ending.

"He was a working man, who worked hard to support his mother and his family, and he was walking down the street and this happens?" Deonarine said, "Is that what happens in America? Is there justice in America?"

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