Nineteen-year-old Christopher Cella, of Selden, arrives at Suffolk Criminal Court...

Nineteen-year-old Christopher Cella, of Selden, arrives at Suffolk Criminal Court in Riverhead for his arraignment on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021. Cella was charged with hate crimes following the attacks on three Hispanic men last month. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

A Medford man was sentenced to 3-1/2 years in prison for “cruel and inhumane violence” inflicted with hate crimes that "terrorized" three day laborers, the Suffolk district attorney said Thursday.

Christopher Cella, 20, pleaded guilty to strangulation and assault as hate crimes, according to District Attorney Raymond A. Tierney, who had sought a seven-year prison term.  Cella also confessed to the crime following his Sept. 19, 2021 arrest, Tierney said.

The defendant was arrested two days after his first attack, prosecutors said, when he enticed a day laborer at a Farmingville deli “with promises of work.” Cella then took the job-seeker to a remote area, had him get out of the car, “and attacked him – forcibly kissing him and putting him in a chokehold,” prosecutors said.

The worker “ultimately broke free and managed to escape.”

Returning to his home, Cella switched to a different vehicle, explaining later to the police he wished to avoid being recognized “because, ‘all those Spanish people know each other.’”

Again promising work, he picked up his next victim at a Medford 7-Eleven, again drove to an isolated spot, “locked him in his car, and began to strangle him,” prosecutors said.

This day laborer “lost vision and consciousness” after about five to six minutes; Cella then fled, and someone, prosecutors only identified as a civilian, helped the victim.

One day later, Cella was back at the same 7-Eleven, again luring a would-be worker by promising to hire him, prosecutors said. This time, Tieney said, when this third victim got into the car, Cella “sped off and drove erractically,” accelerating instead of heeding the day laborer’s pleas to stop.

Grabbing the gear shift, this victim leapt from the moving vehicle — only to have Cella try to crash it into him, prosecutors said.

The defendant then chased the day laborer on foot – “all of which was caught on surveillance video,” the district attorney said.

Cella’s attorney, Christopher Gioe, was not available.

Video of the vehicles Cella drove while committing his crimes, prosecutors said, and photographs all three victims identified led to his arrest, and a detailed, “voluntary” written confession.

“This defendant targeted vulnerable individuals who only wanted to work, and terrorized them with cruel and inhumane violence,” Tierney said in a statement.

He pledged: “We will not tolerate abuse of anyone in Suffolk County regardless of ethnicity, race, national origin, or immigration status.”

Judge Steven Pilewski, Suffolk County Court Judge and Acting Supreme Court Justice, also sentenced Cella to concurrent terms for: a lesser charge of assault as a hate crime, unlawful imprisonment as a hate crime, reckless endangerment as a hate crime, criminal obstruction of breathing, and aggravated harassment.

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