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Patchogue hate-crime murder trial begins

The Lucero family's team holds an impromptu news

The Lucero family's team holds an impromptu news conference outside the courtroom in Riverhead where opening statements began in trial of Jeffrey Conroy, accused in the stabbing death of Marcelo Lucero in 2008. At the podium are, from right, Joselo Lucero, attorney Kevin Faga, Fernando Mateo and Allan Ramirez. (March 18, 2010) Credit: AP

More than 100 people crammed into a third-floor courtroom in Riverhead yesterday - judge and jury, lawyers, family members and supporters, and a horde of reporters - for the trial wrought by the death of Marcelo Lucero in November 2008.

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas J. Spota squeezed into the front row. The friends and family of defendant Jeffrey Conroy packed the middle. Joselo Lucero, brother of the slain man, sat somberly in the back, Latino advocates by his side.

At 11:11 a.m., Conroy, in a gray pinstripe suit and powder-blue shirt, walked in and nodded forcefully to his relatives. His attorney patted him on the back. The Medford 19-year-old, one of seven teens accused in the attack on the Ecuadorean immigrant, faces charges of second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter, both as hate crimes, in the fatal stabbing.

At 11:15 a.m., the jury entered the courtroom of State Supreme Court Justice Robert W. Doyle.

Sixteen months after that misty night in Patchogue, the trial opened.

The scene of the crime

Marcelo Lucero lay on his back halfway beneath an SUV in a pool of blood, his breathing short and labored.

He was on Funaro Court, an alley near the Patchogue train station, for at least 17 minutes before ambulance personnel arrived, a delay prosecutors partially attribute to cell phone and language problems.

Christopher Schiera, assistant chief of the Patchogue Ambulance Co. and the prosecution's first witness, arrived on the scene at 12:14 a.m.

"I made the decision to rapidly extricate him," he said. "Once I realized his condition was that bad, I exposed his chest. I noticed he had a puncture wound to his upper chest area."

Lucero appeared to be in shock, "in the natural transition between life death," Schiera said. "He was not speaking, his eyes were closed, he was breathing very rapidly and not adequately," he testified.

Lucero did not receive advanced life support, such as an IV, at the scene, because none of the ambulance crew was certified to perform that, Schiera said under cross-examination. His own certification as a critical-care EMT had lapsed, he said.

At 12:24 a.m., Lucero was rushed via ambulance to a landing zone at Briarcliffe College, where police had called for a chopper to airlift him to Stony Brook University Medical Center.

As the ambulance pulled in, Lucero was going into cardiac arrest. Because flying a patient in cardiac arrest is against protocol, Schiera said, the ambulance headed to Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center.

The ambulance stopped to pick up a Holbrook Fire Department medic qualified to do advanced life support. The medic administered the EKG machine. Lucero's heart was not pumping.

At 12:34 a.m., Lucero arrived at the hospital. He was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.

'The hunt was on'

"On Nov. 8, 2008, the hunt was on," Assistant District Attorney Megan O'Donnell said in her opening statement.

"Seven teenagers, one of which was the defendant Jeffrey Conroy, wildly roaming the streets of Patchogue for one purpose only - to find a Hispanic person to randomly and physically attack," she said.

Conroy had expressed white supremacy feelings in tattoos and statements made to others, she said.

Not far away from the defendants were Lucero, 37, and his friend, Angel Loja. The two drank beer and smoked marijuana, said O'Donnell, indicating that Loja would testify that Lucero also had smoked cocaine in the past.

The two men, walking to a friend's house, crossed paths with the seven teens, O'Donnell said. As the teenagers surrounded him, Lucero swung his belt in defense before Conroy took out a knife and thrust it into Lucero's upper right chest, she said.

Defense attorney William Keahon, in his opening statement, revealed little of his strategy, instructing the jurors on the presumption of innocence and urging them to watch carefully for witnesses' motives.

Referring to Conroy's presence in the same courtroom for arraignment, Keahon said, "In a loud and clear voice, he said he was not guilty. Those were his words then and those are his words today."

The night in question

On the night of Nov. 8, 2008, Conroy was hanging out with friends at the Medford train station, testified Jason Eberhardt, 19, the second witness called by the prosecution.

Later, at South Haven Park, Eberhardt said he overheard a conversation between several of them, "talking about beating up Spanish people" in Patchogue.

"I decided not to go," he testified.

In cross-examination, Eberhardt testified that Conroy had a diverse group of friends that included Latinos.

"He was friends with everyone," Eberhardt said.

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