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Friend of slain immigrant describes Patchogue attack

Seven teens accused in a hate crime killing

Seven teens accused in a hate crime killing are led out of Fifth Precinct in Patchogue. (Nov. 10, 2008) Credit: James Carbone

Through almost three hours of intense cross-examination Wednesday in a Riverhead courtroom, an Ecuadorean immigrant sparred with a veteran defense attorney over details of the November 2008, attack in Patchogue on himself and his friend, Marcelo Lucero.

In his first public comments since Lucero's death that night, Angel Loja, 37, said he and Lucero were surrounded by a gang of six or seven teenagers on Nov. 8, 2008, before Lucero, 37, was stabbed in the chest.

Loja's version of the attack was questioned by William Keahon of Hauppauge, the attorney for Jeffrey Conroy, 19, of Medford, who is charged with stabbing Lucero.

Keahon questioned what he said were discrepancies between Loja's testimony Wednesday and his previous testimony before a grand jury, and he raised questions about Loja's legal name and payments that Loja has received from the Suffolk County district attorney's office.

At times clearly annoyed and exasperated, Loja fired back when Keahon asked about his employment status.

"Why are we talking about me and my job?" Loja said late Wednesday afternoon. "Why don't we talk about my friend who was killed?"

Conroy has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter, both as hate crimes. Prosecutors say he and six other former Patchogue-Medford High School students attacked Lucero, Loja and a third man on Nov. 8, 2008, as part of a yearlong series of attacks on Hispanics.

Speaking in Spanish through an interpreter, Loja was composed during questioning earlier Wednesday by Assistant District Attorney Megan O'Donnell in Suffolk County Court.

He became more animated during Keahon's questioning, frequently gesturing with his hands and making faces when Keahon rephrased his questions.

Loja bristled when Keahon suggested that Lucero had chased his attackers down Railroad Avenue in Patchogue while waving his belt at them.

"How could one person chase after seven people?" Loja said. "I'm telling you the truth. You're trying to tell me that my friend followed them all the way to West Avenue, and that's not true."

Many of Keahon's questions focused on statements that Loja had testified were made by Conroy and the other alleged attackers as they taunted Loja and Lucero. Loja said his written statement to police left out some of the statements - much of it profanity and racial and ethnic slurs - but he said he didn't know why.

He said he agreed to the written statement after a police officer read it to him while he was grieving for Lucero hours after he died.

"Apparently I wasn't listening, because I was on another planet at the time," he said.

He said his working papers identified him as Pablo Loja, which is the identity he used when questioned by police and before a grand jury.

When Keahon accused him of lying about his name, Loja said, "It was the truth, because that was the ID I had in my wallet and that was the name I had used for years."

Keahon questioned Loja about more than $9,000 in monthly payments he has received from the district attorney's office since Lucero's death. The district attorney's office has said the payments were for Lucero's rent and other expenses so he would not have to leave Suffolk before he testified at Conroy's trial.

Loja said he lost his job after Lucero's death and he did not work for about a year.

"I was only being paid because I didn't have a job for many months," he said, adding he started a new job four months ago but lost it on Tuesday.

During questioning by O'Donnell, Loja said when he saw the teenagers coming toward him and Lucero near Railroad Avenue in Patchogue, he thought the seven "didn't have good intentions."

Loja said he warned his friend about the group as they walked to the home of another friend, Elder Fernandez.

"The look on their faces - they were furious," said Loja. "I said, 'Marcelo, let's be careful.' "

Loja, who said he grew up with Lucero in Ecuador, said the teens taunted him and Lucero, using profanity and racial epithets.

"You came to this country to take our jobs from us," Loja said the teens told him. He said they demanded money from Lucero.

"My friend didn't like that they asked him for money," Loja said. "My friend said, 'No. Why don't you guys go to work like I go to work so you can have money?' "

After the exchange, the teens surrounded him and Lucero, punching and kicking his friend, Loja said. One hit Loja in the face, but he was not seriously injured.

Lucero wrapped his jacket around his arm and took off his belt, a common defense tactic in South America, Loja said.

Loja said he and Lucero fell. He said he got up and fled, so he did not see what happened next.

When he turned back, he said Lucero was coming toward him.

"I said, 'Marcelo, are you all right?' And he said, 'No, Angel,' " Loja said.

He said he saw that Lucero was bleeding. Fernandez called 911.

"The last words he said to me were, 'Angel, call the ambulance. I'm bleeding a lot.' "

Loja said police took him to Ocean Avenue and Main Street, several blocks away, where police had stopped seven teens. Loja said he identified them as those who had attacked him and Lucero.

Loja was not asked to identify Conroy in court.

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