RIVERHEAD, N.Y. – A black man accused of killing a white teen during a racially charged confrontation outside his home was convicted of second-degree manslaughter Saturday despite his claims he feared a "lynch mob" had come to attack his family.
The ruling came on the fourth day of deliberations following an emotional three-week trial in which defense attorneys invoked the nation's violent racist past in arguing the shooting was justified.
There was no visible reaction in the packed courtroom as the jury announced the verdict. John White, 54, was permitted to remain free on bail until sentencing, when he is to face a prison term of 5-15 years. White also was convicted of a weapons possession misdemeanor that carries a penalty of two to seven years in prison, which would likely run concurrently with the sentence for manslaughter.
Saying White planned to appeal, defense attorney Fred Brewington called the verdict "disappointing for African-Americans" in the area.
"You have to survive in Suffolk County, where people can role up on your house at 11:30 at night, threaten you, threaten your family, curse at you, call you a nigger, and you've got to take it," he said
White testified during the trial that he was trying to protect his family in 2006 when he brandished a gun after a group of angry white teenagers turned up at his house late at night to fight his son.
White claimed the gun went off accidentally, killing 17-year-old Daniel Cicciaro.
"My son is finally vindicated," Joanne Cicciaro, the victim's mother, said after the verdict was read. "The truth prevailed. ... It was never about race. It was about individuals and individuals' actions."
Outside the courtroom, the family's supporters chanted "Dan-O! Dan-O!" and they honked their horns as they drove away. Several supporters had the teenager's nickname, "Dano Jr.," tattooed on their bodies.
Jurors, who had deliberated late into Saturday evening after saying a day earlier that they were deadlocked, declined to comment.
White was arrested in August 2006 following the fatal shooting outside his home in Miller Place, a predominantly white community on eastern Long Island. His 19-year-old son, Aaron, had wakened him around 11 p.m. to tell him he had been feuding with other teens after being asked to leave a party and a group of the teens was headed to their house for a confrontation.
White, who had testified he grew up hearing stories from family members about how the Ku Klux Klan torched his grandfather's business in Alabama in the 1920s and feared a similar attack was about to happen, first grabbed a shotgun, then opted for a pistol he had hidden in the garage.
He and his son, who picked up the shotgun, went down the driveway to confront the teens in the street.
"He wanted to stop these people who said they were coming to kill his son," Brewington said in closing arguments.
He contended the weapon discharged accidentally when Cicciaro lunged for it.
Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney James Chalifoux said White should have simply locked the door and called police — and not gone outside to confront the teenagers with a gun.
He also sought to downplay the racial element, telling jurors the Brooklyn-raised White never said anything about a lynch mob until the case went to trial, and noted that the Klan attack on his grandfather occurred 30 years before he was born.
He quoted White on the night he was arrested as telling police: "I did what I had to do. You might as well put the cuffs on now. This is the end of me."
After the verdict was read, Dan Cicciaro Sr. defended his son.
"Maybe now they'll stop slinging my son's name and stop accusing him of all this racism," he said.
The shooting happened on Aug. 9, 2006, shortly after Aaron White was asked to leave a beer bash at a friend's home after a female guest complained about a bogus MySpace posting claiming Aaron wanted to rape her.
Although White denied making the threat, he complied and left the party. Cicciaro and his friends subsequently called the teenager on his cell phone to continue the dispute, allegedly making threats that culminated when they arrived at the White home shortly after 11 p.m.
Some of the teenagers continued to hurl racial epithets once at the home, and the younger White conceded that he responded with profanity-laced responses of his own.
Cicciaro, who had a blood-alcohol reading above the legal limit for driving, was just 3 inches from the pistol when he was shot in the face, a medical examiner testified.