RIVERHEAD, N.Y. – Three teenagers who admitted targeting Hispanics for violence were sentenced Wednesday to seven-year prison terms for their roles in the 2008 killing of an Ecuadorean immigrant, and a fourth teen who had met the others on the night of the killing received a six-year sentence.
The killing focused the national debate over immigration on New York's Suffolk County and prompted an ongoing U.S. Justice Department probe of how the police on Long Island respond to hate crimes.
Anthony Hartford, Jordan Dasch and Jose Pacheco, all 19, had each pleaded guilty to gang assault, conspiracy and attempted assault as a hate crime, admitting they had participated in an ongoing campaign of attacks on Hispanics, culminating in the Nov. 8, 2008, stabbing death of Marcelo Lucero.
A fourth teen, Christopher Overton, pleaded guilty to the same charges but received a maximum of six years. State Supreme Court Justice Robert Doyle did not explain his reason for Overton's lighter sentence, though Overton did not participate in earlier attacks.
In May, 19-year-old Jeffrey Conroy was sentenced to 25 years in prison following his conviction on manslaughter as a hate crime. Prosecutors said he was the one who inflicted the fatal stab wound that killed Lucero.
Two other teens who pleaded guilty face sentencing later.
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 Lucero and a friend. 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.
Joselo Lucero, the victim's brother, told the judge before the sentencings that he hoped his brother's killing would be the last hate crime in the community and was conciliatory toward the teens.
"I want the best for them because for my brother, it's too late," he said.
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 statuses. The teenagers were aware of that trepidation and took advantage of their victims' fears by operating with impunity, prosecutors said.
During the midnight confrontation, Lucero hit Conroy in the head with a belt and the teen lost his temper, opened a 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.