PATCHOGUE, N.Y. (CBS 2) – The last of seven New York teenagers implicated in the hate crime killing of an Ecuadorean immigrant pleaded guilty on Wednesday.
Anthony Hartford’s plea to gang assault and other charges closes the prosecution phase of a case that attracted international headlines and prompted an ongoing U.S. Justice Department probe of police responses to bias crimes. The judge indicated Hartford would likely face 10 years in prison when he is sentenced on July 20.
The 18-year-old admitted being with a group that targeted Hispanics for violence in November 2008. Their attacks culminated in the killing of immigrant Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue.
“He’s never denied being involved,” said defense attorney Laurence Silverman. “He’s never denied that it was wrong to be involved.”
A week ago, 19-year-old Jeffrey Conroy was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his conviction on manslaughter as a hate crime. Five others are awaiting sentencing.
“We believe that it brings a sense of relief and closure to Suffolk county that the case is finally over,” said Assistant District Attorney Megan O’Donnell. “We hope that the lessons learned here are in fact invoked in Suffolk County.”
The victim’s brother, Joselo Lucero, said he felt justice had been served.
The killing focused attention on the Long Island county, which has seen an influx of immigrants from Central and South America in the past decade. In a September 2009 report, the Southern Poverty Law Center documented repeated attacks on Hispanics since 2000.
Prosecutors say many Hispanics attacked in the days before Lucero’s killing were afraid to report the crimes to police, fearing questions about their immigration status. The teenagers were aware of that trepidation and took advantage of their victims’ fears by operating with impunity, prosecutors said.
Lucero, 37, was walking with a friend when the teenagers confronted them. Prosecutors say the teens were walking around town looking for targets, began yelling ethnic slurs and approached the two men. One of the teens punched Lucero in the face. Lucero and his friend swung their belts in self-defense and began to chase the teens.
At some point during the midnight confrontation, Lucero hit Conroy in the head with the belt and the teen lost his temper, opened the folding knife and lunged at Lucero’s chest. The teens fled after the stabbing, but were arrested within minutes, just blocks from where the stabbing took place.
Although Conroy was given the stiffest sentence, the other teens are facing prison terms of at least five years, and in some cases, state Supreme Court Justice Robert W. Doyle has indicated his intention to impose sentences of 10 years, depending on their level of culpability in the killing.
Moments earlier, Robert Conroy had jumped to his feet, shaking his fist at the judge and punching a wall. “He was 17! This is mercy, for crying out loud,” Conroy shouted, as the stiffest possible sentence was leveled at his son – 25 years – for the hate crime stabbing death of immigrant Marcelo Lucero.
Two alternate jurors who returned for the sentencing were shaken by what they’d seen and heard.
“I felt so bad for Mr. Conroy,” alternate juror Judith Hallock said. “He just lost it for an outburst like that.”
“It was probably something he’d held inside for a long time,” Joyce Duck, another alternate juror, said. “It was emotional for me. Again, both sides lost.”
Only one of Conroy’s co-defendants testified at his trial, admitting the teens regularly targeted Hispanics for violence in the weeks and months leading up to Lucero’s killing.