Reporting Jennifer McLogan
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – Gov. David Paterson commuted the prison sentence of a black man convicted for the racially charged shooting death of a white teenager on Long Island to time served on Thursday.
The governor’s office said that John White was released after serving five months in the Mt. McGregor Facility in Saratoga.
In a press conference Thursday afternoon, White said he was grateful for religion for holding him up through his time in prison and the governor for giving him the opportunity to be with his family in time for Christmas.
“He’ll never let your hand go if you take his hand and believe in God,” White said. “I feel blessed and highly favored. That’s all I have to say.”
The commutation is conditioned upon White not breaking the law, according to the governor’s office, and Paterson said the release was a heavy decision that will be met with both opposition and support.
“While the incident and Mr. White’s trial engendered much controversy and comment, and varying assessments of justice were perceived, its most common feature was heartbreak,” Paterson said. “My decision today may be an affront to some and a joy to others, but my objective is only to seek to ameliorate the profound suffering that occurred as a result of this tragic event.”
A jury convicted White of manslaughter in the second degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree following a fateful incident on Aug. 9, 2006 in Miller Place, N.Y. in which 17-year-old Daniel Cicciaro was killed due to a gunshot fired by White.
Cicciaro was shot outside White’s home after he and his friends allegedly threatened White’s then 19-year-old son, while shouting racial epithets.
The incident was characterized by fear, stress, panic, anger, confusion, misunderstanding and a clash of values and impulses, all in a period of less than three minutes.
Paterson said it was a tragedy that no one intended, yet everyone suffered.
“I am deeply saddened by the events of that day and am committed to working to heal the pain that it has caused to the affected families and community,” Paterson said. “The action I am taking today is one of understanding, forgiveness and hope, which I believe are the essential components of justice.”
Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas J. Spota released a statement in response, blasting Paterson’s announcement stating, “I strongly believe the Governor should have had the decency and the compassion to at least contact the victim’s family to allow them to be heard before commuting the defendant’s sentence.”
Spota said a court, upheld by an appellate court, ruled that a reasonable person wouldn’t have believed deadly force was needed that hot summer night.
In a courtroom secured by 18 police officers because of the racial tensions, White testified that he was trying to protect his family when the white teenagers turned up at his house. He claimed his pistol fired accidentally when Cicciaro lunged for it.
White’s attorney hoped that the ruling could help all involved begin the healing process.
“We want to make sure that we remember that in this situation a young man’s life was lost, and the White family will never forget that, and they continue to keep the Cicciaros in their prayers,” White’s lawyer, Fred Brewington, told CBS 2′s Jennifer McLogan.
The victim had a blood-alcohol reading above the legal limit for driving and was just 3 inches from the pistol when he was shot.
White had said his son, Aaron, woke him around 11 p.m. to say teens he had argued with at a party were headed to the Whites’ house in Miller Place, a predominantly white community on eastern Long Island.
The younger White had earlier complied with a request to leave the beer bash after he was suspected of posting online threats against a teenage girl at the party. The story of the threats turned out to be bogus, but when Cicciaro and others heard about what happened, they headed for Miller Place, making cell phone calls to Aaron White.
White found out on Wednesday afternoon that he would be released. Upon his release, 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care came to his aid, defending Paterson’s decision and defending White’s actions on the day the shot was fired.
“There a lot of home owners around here that are very silent, but they believe that it was a miscarriage of justice for John White to serve one day in jail for protecting his family, protecting his wife, his son and the respect of a man’s home and castle,” said Michael Greys, of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement. “We believe the governor took the right action in this case.”
The Reverend Al Sharpton, leader of the National Action Network, praised Paterson’s decision.
“We salute Gov. Paterson’s decision and hope that all families involved will move towards healing,” Sharpton said. “There are no winners in this situation. The governor in my judgment showed great courage and fairness.”
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