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Testimony: Teens drank before stabbing death

Jeffrey Conroy is led out of Fifth Precinct

Jeffrey Conroy is led out of Fifth Precinct in Patchogue for arraignment in Central Islip on Nov. 10, 2008. Credit: James Carbone

With his friend Jeffrey Conroy sitting only a few feet away in a Riverhead courtroom, a Medford teenager testified Thursday afternoon about a night of drinking and BB-gun shooting in the hours before the stabbing death of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero.

Jason Everhardt, 19, said he was part of a group of 14 young people, including Conroy, who were hanging out in South Haven Park on Nov. 8, 2008, and discussed a plan to attack Hispanics. Everhardt said he decided not to go with seven others to Patchogue, where prosecutors say Conroy stabbed Lucero shortly before midnight.

As he testified, Everhardt stared straight ahead at Assistant District Attorney Megan O'Donnell or at Conroy's attorney, William Keahon of Hauppauge, in Suffolk County Court.

"We were talking about beating up Spanish people," Everhardt testified during questioning by O'Donnell.

The Patchogue-Medford High School senior was the second witness to testify on the opening day of Conroy's trial on charges of second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter, both charged as hate crimes, in the death of Lucero. Conroy, 19, of Medford, has pleaded not guilty.

That night began at a friend's house, where Everhardt said he drank beer. Later, the group went to the Medford train station, where Conroy and another youth used a BB gun to shoot at a ticket vending machine, Everhardt said.

Still later that evening at the park, Conroy and six others piled into a sport utility vehicle driven by Jordan Dasch, with the intention of finding potential victims in Patchogue, Everhardt said.

"They asked me if I wanted to come," he said. "Me and [another youth] said no."

Earlier Thursday, an emergency medical technician testified that an ambulance was delayed in taking Lucero to a hospital after the 37-year-old was stabbed.

Chris Schiera, an assistant chief of the Patchogue Ambulance Co., said Lucero already was near death when he was found bleeding near the Patchogue train station.

Schiera, the first witness called by prosecutors to testify, said Lucero was in shock minutes after he was stabbed.

Lucero was in "the natural transition from life to death," he said.

After briefly treating him in a driveway, emergency responders took Lucero to Briarcliffe College, a few blocks away, to be airlifted to Stony Brook University Medical Center, Schiera said. But Lucero went into cardiac arrest before a helicopter arrived, and the chopper would not take him, he said.

Lucero was taken to Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center in East Patchogue, where he died.

Questioned by Keahon, Schiera said he was not qualified to administer intravenous saline solutions, which might have helped to compensate for blood loss Lucero suffered after he was stabbed.

On the way to the hospital, Schiera said, the ambulance stopped to pick up a Holbrook Fire Department paramedic who was trained in advanced life support. Schiera said it took "less than two seconds" to pick up the paramedic on a service road in Patchogue.

The ambulance arrived at the hospital four minutes later, he said.

As the trial opened in Riverhead Thursday morning, O'Donnell told the jury of seven men and five women that Conroy was motivated by racial hatred and notions of white supremacy when he fatally stabbed Lucero.

Conroy, now 19, and six other teens met at the Medford train station on a November night in 2008 and hatched a plan to attack Hispanics, Assistant District Attorney Megan O'Donnell said. Hours later, they surrounded and taunted Lucero in Patchogue before Conroy stabbed him, she said.

"On Nov. 8, 2008, the hunt was on," O'Donnell said in her 30-minute opening argument. Conroy and the others went "wilding, roving the streets of Patchogue for one purpose and one purpose only - to find a Hispanic person to randomly and violently attack."

Keahon told jurors that witnesses for the prosecution may not tell the truth on the stand.

"There is a difference between certainty and accuracy," Keahon said. "You're going to see witnesses who are so certain of themselves, but when you listen to the testimony, you're going to find that that certainty does not lead to accuracy."

He made no reference to records indicating that it took an ambulance about 30 minutes from the time the call came in until Lucero arrived at the hospital. The defense is expected to raise questions about the ambulance response time and the way Lucero was transported to the hospital.

O'Donnell also said Conroy had racist tattoos and "expressed his feelings to others about white supremacy and white power."

She said Lucero and a friend, Angel Loja, had gone to dinner, then spent the evening drinking beer and smoking marijuana before Lucero was killed.

As opening statements began, Conroy's father, Robert, sat in the middle of the third row, flanked by family and friends.

At first, Lucero's brother, Joselo, sat directly behind Conroy's father. He later moved to the third row. He wore sunglasses throughout opening arguments.

State Supreme Court Justice Robert W. Doyle told jurors they could not take notes during testimony, calling notebooks a distraction.

He said he has found in past trials that when jurors take notes, "their notes may be inaccurate and counterproductive."

District Attorney Thomas Spota sat in the first row. Other regular denizens of the courthouse, including prosecutors and defense attorneys, attended opening arguments.

More than a dozen journalists covered the proceedings.

During a lunch break, television cameras outside the courtroom converged on Robert Conroy, Spota, Keahon and Joselo Lucero.

Newsday, News 12 Long Island and FiOS TV had applied to place cameras in the courtroom for the trial. Doyle said their applications "are in all respects denied." Doyle has said the trial may take six to eight weeks.

Four of Conroy's co-defendants have pleaded guilty to first-degree gang assault and fourth-degree conspiracy. All four agreed to testify against Conroy, but only one - Nicholas Hausch, 18, of Medford - is expected to take the stand.

The two remaining defendants are to be prosecuted after Conroy's trial.

Lucero's killing prompted widespread outrage and shone a bright light on tensions over immigration in Patchogue and Suffolk County. More Latinos later came forward and said they were victims of attacks, sparking an ongoing federal probe into how Suffolk police handled such complaints.

After Lucero's death, Conroy and most of the other defendants were charged with attacks on other Latino victims during the preceding year. Conroy is on trial only for the attacks on Nov. 8, 2008, and one the preceding week.

Thursday's opening arguments and testimony came after two weeks of grueling jury selection in which more than 500 prospective jurors were questioned. Most were dismissed after they said they had read too much about the case to remain impartial.

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