RIVERHEAD, N.Y. – RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (AP) — A teenager convicted of manslaughter as a hate crime in the killing of an Ecuadorean immigrant received the maximum sentence of 25 years in prison Wednesday, with the judge saying "the proof was overwhelming."
Jeffrey Conroy, 19, who was convicted last month in the November 2008 stabbing death of Marcelo Lucero, offered an apology before state Supreme Court Justice Robert W. Doyle imposed the sentence.
"I'm really sorry for what happened to Mr. Lucero. I'm really sorry for the whole situation. I feel really bad for what his whole family is going through right now," said Conroy.
His eyes welled up as his lawyer read aloud letters seeking mercy for him.
Conroy was one of seven teenagers implicated in the killing but the only one to go to trial. The killing put a spotlight on troubled race relations on Long Island and led to a U.S. Justice Department probe of bias attacks against Hispanics and the police response to such crimes.
"I don't want this hate to continue," Lucero's brother, Joselo Lucero, told the packed courtroom. "I want my brother to know that I'm fighting for the right reason, for human rights."
After the stiff sentence was imposed, the defendant's father, Robert Conroy, exploded, using an expletive to note that his son was only 17 at the time of the killing.
"This is mercy for crying out loud?" the father yelled.
Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Megan O'Donnell asked for the maximum penalty to be imposed. She noted that Conroy was arrested in 2008 in an assault case that was later dismissed, was suspected of slashing tires in at a dealership but never arrested and had 24 disciplinary incidents at his high school between 2006-2008.
She then read a passage from the state penal law that said: "Hate crimes tear at the very fabric of society."
Conroy has a swastika tattoo and a lightning bolt tattoo intended to symbolize white power, according to trial testimony. On the stand, Conroy said he allowed a friend to place the swastika tattoo on his upper thigh on a dare.
He was acquitted of two counts of murder, including one count as a hate crime, but convicted of three counts of attempted assault in an attack on Lucero's friend, as well as two other Hispanic men before the stabbing.
Conroy had made statements to police following his arrest that he was the one responsible for stabbing Lucero, but he testified in his own defense at trial that another man, Christopher Overton, actually wielded the knife. Conroy explained that Overton, whom he had just met that night, confided that he already had pleaded guilty to burglary in a case where a man was killed and could not afford further trouble with the police.
Jurors said after the trial that they did not believe Conroy's claims.
Overton pleaded guilty to gang assault, conspiracy and attempted assault as a hate crime. He was the fifth defendant to enter a guilty plea.
The killing focused national attention on Long Island's Suffolk 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.
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.
Prosecutors said Lucero hit Conroy in the head with the belt and that the teen lost his temper, opened the folding knife and lunged at Lucero's chest.