A teenager facing the prospect of life in prison testified yesterday at his murder trial, saying he did not stab an Ecuadorean immigrant in Patchogue and he took the rap for the crime to protect the real killer - a boy he had just met.
Jeffrey Conroy, 19, of Medford, took the witness stand in a Riverhead courtroom after his attorney made a high-stakes decision to let him testify in his own defense. Conroy faces charges of second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter as hate crimes in the killing of Marcelo Lucero, 37, on Nov. 8, 2008.
Conroy said another teenager, Christopher Overton, 17, of East Patchogue, stabbed Lucero, 37, and then asked Conroy to take the knife so Overton would not be blamed for the crime.
"He said 'Jeff, I think I just stabbed the guy in the shoulder,' " Conroy said, responding to questions from his attorney, William Keahon. "I really can't get in trouble for this. Can you please take the knife?"
Conroy said Overton had told him earlier that night - when they met for the first time - about his guilty plea to second-degree burglary in a 2007 home evasion case in East Patchogue and that he was awaiting sentencing.
Overton reminded Conroy about that conversation when he asked him to take the knife, Conroy said. Conroy said Overton claimed he had just "nicked" Lucero, but that he couldn't be caught with the knife because of his burglary case.
Conroy, wearing a long-sleeved white shirt and looking befuddled at times, gazed out at a courtroom packed with lawyers and prosecutors, including Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota. Conroy, Overton and five other teenagers were all charged in the 2008 attack on Lucero. Overton has pleaded not guilty to gang assault and other charges and is awaiting trial.
Conroy also said Thursday that he used a puddle to rinse blood off the knife he took from Overton.
State Supreme Court Justice Robert W. Doyle had ruled Wednesday that Conroy could not take the stand to blame Overton for Lucero's stabbing, but said Thursday he would permit the Overton-related testimony to demonstrate Conroy's "state of mind" when police questioned him.
As Prosecutor Megan O'Donnell grilled Conroy, he said he lied to a detective who took a statement from him after the stabbing and that he lied when he told the officer who patted him down that he had stabbed Lucero.
He also said the detective, in a statement Conroy gave, did not accurately represent everything he said. O'Donnell reminded him he had an opportunity to read the statement before signing it.
"You took a murder rap for Christopher Overton?" asked O'Donnell, speaking in a tone of disbelief.
Conroy said he did.
Then, O'Donnell asked Conroy why, after he realized that he was being charged with manslaughter, he didn't tell a detective what he says is the truth - that he didn't stab Lucero.
O'Donnell asked Conroy why he didn't tell a detective, "Wait a second, I didn't cause that guy's death."
At one point, Conroy said he wanted to protect Overton because he "felt bad for him."
Outside the courtroom, Overton's mother, Denise Overton, criticized Conroy for blaming her son. "It's horrible," she said. "It's absolutely horrible."
Overton's lawyer, Paul Gianelli, said Conroy was "making a scapegoat of my client."
Lucero's mother, Rosario, wearing a gray dress, attended the trial yesterday, dabbing her eyes at times, and saw Conroy in person for the first time. "She wanted to hear who this person really is," said Fernando Mateo, a Lucero family spokesman.
O'Donnell also asked Conroy about tattoos he has. He told her a friend had given him tattoos of a star, a lightning bolt and a swastika.
Referring to the swastika, O'Donnell asked, "Why did you get that?"
"As a joke," Conroy replied.
With Carl MacGowan
and Bart Jones