Eric Kramer, 42, of Port Jefferson Station, a juror in...

Eric Kramer, 42, of Port Jefferson Station, a juror in the Marcelo Lucero murder trial, speaks about the jury's decision to convict Jeffrey Conroy of first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime. (April 19, 2010) Credit: James Carbone

At 10 Friday night, the jury in the trial of Jeffrey Conroy wearily returned to its deliberations after hearing a three-hour readback of the testimony of a Suffolk police detective. A verdict was now within reach, they agreed, but it seemed too late to report to the judge - and they wanted to be absolutely certain.

So they decided to wait until Monday, when they deliberated less than an hour before announcing they had reached a decision.

"It was extremely emotional," said juror Linda Giani. "You have a young boy's life in your hands. You also have the family that's grieving for the loss of a son."

The jurors said Monday that they had quickly agreed last week that Conroy was guilty of a hate crime. But was it second-degree murder or manslaughter? It all depended on Conroy's intent, and the jury debated it every day.

And each day of their deliberations, the jurors asked for the legal definition of intent. In the end, they believed he never intended to kill Marcelo Lucero.

"They were just bad kids that got caught up in a group," said Michael Engel, 35, who was juror number four in the trial. Engel, a Long Island Rail Road conductor, said Conroy's admission to police that he and his friends would sometimes go "Mexican hopping" made it clear that Marcelo Lucero, 37, who was from Ecuador, was targeted because of his ethnicity.

"We believed that was the evidence that we needed," said Engel. "The first night we basically said everything was a hate crime."

But the intent question led to a three-day debate - last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday - and a total review of the evidence.

During the trial, the jury had asked for a host of legal definitions, including intent and manslaughter. They also asked for, and received, a list of every witness.

They asked for much of the trial's physical evidence. That included Lucero's shirt, Conroy's sweatshirt and his jeans, and a large color photograph of Lucero's body.

"We just didn't believe beyond a reasonable doubt that there was an intent to kill," said juror Eric Kramer, 42, of Port Jefferson Station, an environmental engineer for Brookhaven National Laboratory. "We had a little bit of deliberation, but what we did is we followed the law which was very definite about the difference between murder and manslaughter."

Jurors also said they put no credence in Conroy's testimony that he admitted to the stabbing to protect co-defendant Christopher Overton, who Conroy said admitted to him of stabbing Lucero.

They said they didn't believe that Conroy would take the fall for someone he had just met earlier that day. And so Conroy's testimony didn't much factor into the verdict, Kramer said. "It wasn't so much his testimony. It was more everybody else's testimony."

Juror Amy Lester said part of the reason Conroy's testimony didn't stick was because it took him 17 months to tell that story. "All of the evidence - the DNA, all the specific evidence - point to [Conroy]," Lester said. "We didn't believe that. We looked at all the facts and the facts didn't point in that direction."

Linda Giani said the jury was "very surprised" Conroy took the stand. But she added: "I think it was important that he came out to us and spoke to us so that we could see his aspect of it - not that in the end I think anybody really believed anything he had to say."

With Joye Brown and Bart Jones

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