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Waiter describes attack by 4 teens in Patchogue

Jeffrey Conroy, 17, front, and other teens arrested

Jeffrey Conroy, 17, front, and other teens arrested in a hate crime killing, are led out of a police station for their arraignment in Central Islip. Conroy is accused of being the stabber in the hate crime. (Nov. 10, 2008) Credit: James Carbone

A Patchogue restaurant worker told a Riverhead jury Tuesday that he feared for his life when four teenagers attacked him as he walked home from work on Nov. 8, 2008.

"I was afraid and started running like hell," said Hector Sierra, 57, head waiter at the Gallo Tropical Restaurant in Patchogue.

The teenagers attacked Sierra, of Patchogue, the same night that a gang attacked Marcelo Lucero, 37, an Ecuadorean immigrant who died after he was stabbed in an assault shortly before midnight, prosecutors say.

Prosecutors contend those four teenagers were in the group that attacked both men in a crime spree aimed at assaulting Hispanic people.

Sierra was testifying as a prosecution witness in the hate crime trial of Jeffrey Conroy in the courtroom of State Supreme Court Justice Robert W. Doyle.

Prosecutors say Conroy, 19, of Medford, fatally stabbed Lucero during a gang attack on a Patchogue street. He faces charges of second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter, both as hate crimes.

Sierra testified that a reddish-brown SUV passed him shortly after 11:30 p.m. that night as he walked home in the fog.

"I felt like I was being observed," Sierra said.

Then, he said, the SUV stopped and four teenagers got out and ran toward him. He could not tell how many people were in the car.

A few minutes later, Sierra said, the teenagers "started punching and kicking me from behind."

He tripped on the lawn of a nearby house as he tried to run and found himself crawling. He made it to the front door and banged on it for help. The lights went on, Sierra said, but no one opened the door.

Finally the teenagers returned to the car and drove off. After they left, a male passerby saw Sierra, whose cell phone was not working, and took him to a 7-Eleven to call for help. The store was dark so he went home.

"I just wanted to get home," Sierra said. "I was in shock."

Sierra's testimony came on the day that two of Conroy's teenage friends testified about a swastika tattoo on his upper right thigh and another shaped like a lightning bolt on an arm.

Alyssa Sprague, 17, of Bellport, told the jury that Conroy had shown her the lightning bolt and told her "it was white power."

Sprague said Conroy took a knife from her house that another friend had left there in an eyeglass case, but it is not believed to have been used in the stabbing.

Keith Brunjes, 18, of Medford, testified that Conroy was his "best friend" and that he had tattooed Conroy with the swastika in 2008.

When prosecutor Megan O'Donnell asked about the symbolism of the tattoos, Brunjes said Conroy said, "If I ever go to jail, I'm screwed."

The two became intrigued by tattoos in April 2008, after they watched "Oz" - an HBO show about a prison cell block. They stocked up at a crafts store on ink, needle and thread needed to make tattoos. Brunjes then used those purchases to give Conroy his crudely etched tattoos, which also included a star on one arm.

Brunjes said when he tattooed Conroy with the lightning bolt he didn't know what it signified.

He said Conroy was like a brother to him. "He was always the kid I went to with anything," he said.

Outside court, Conroy's attorney William Keahon brushed off questions about the tattoos, saying: "It was two young kids, 16 and 17, that were acting like jerks."

Later, the Rev. Allan Ramirez, who has accompanied Lucero's brother, Joselo, to the trial, reacted in a phone interview to pictures shown in court of the swastika tattoo.

"Such a universal symbol of hatred now being tied to the murder of Marcelo took your breath away," Ramirez said.

With Carl MacGowan

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