Patchogue Plus Three: A Look Back at a Fatal Hate Crime
Shortly before midnight on Nov. 8, 2008, seven teenagers surrounded and attacked two Latino men outside of a train station in Patchogue, Long Island. Marcelo Lucero, a 37-year-old Ecuadorian immigrant who worked at a local dry cleaning store, was stabbed in the chest and left to die. The teens were convicted of gang assault; prosecutors said the attack was part of targeted hate crimes against Latinos in the area, which the perpetrators purportedly called “Mexican hopping” or “beaner hopping.”
In response to the murder, Lucero’s family filed a civil rights lawsuit against the county in which their son lived, charging public officials and police for failing to prevent the killing. Their lawsuit against the Suffolk County Police Department is still underway, but last week, on Nov. 2, a U.S. District Court judge dismissed the suit against the town of Patchogue and Brookhaven.
On the three-year anniversary of Lucero’s killing, MetroFocus looks back at the players in the crime that unalterably changed so many lives.
But it wasn’t just the people who were affected by what happened and the community-rending case that followed. Patchogue, too, was forever changed. In the wake of Lucero’s death, the seaside suburb — and even other parts of Suffolk County around it — were suddenly thrown into the national spotlight as a number of other Latino residents came forward to share their stories of harassment and intolerance.
Immigrant rights groups criticized the Suffolk County Police for failing to investigate and track potential hate crimes in the community and federal authorities launched a probe. The investigation is ongoing, but on Sept. 13, the Department of Justice released a letter to County Executive Steve Levy with a preliminary set of recommendations, which included more training for police officers, new classifications for what is considered a “hate crime” and a better strategy for reporting police misconduct.
Following is a look at the people involved in the Patchogue case:
Jeffrey Conroy, Marcelo Lucero’s killer
In 2008: Conroy was the teen who inflicted the fatal wound on Marcelo Lucero. At the time of the attacks, he was a 17-year-old high school senior who played for the school’s football, wrestling and lacrosse teams. But Conroy also had a swastika symbol tattooed on his thigh and according to prosecutors, frequently went around town tormenting Latino residents. DNA evidence confirmed that the knife that police found on him was stained with Lucero’s blood. Before his trial, Conroy submitted a five-page confession to the police in which he admitted to stabbing Lucero.
During the murder trial in 2010: Conroy retracted his earlier confession and testified that it was another young man present at the time, Christopher Overton, who stabbed Lucero. Despite this attempt to escape conviction, on April 19, 2010, Conroy was found guilty of manslaughter as a hate crime and gang assault. He was also convicted of attempted assault on three other Latino men in separate incidents that took place in the summer of 2008. He was acquitted of second-degree murder as a hate crime, which would have put him in prison for life.
Latest news: On May 26, 2010 Conroy was sentenced to 25 years in prison. He is currently serving time at the Clinton Correctional facility in Dannemora, N.Y. Since the conviction, his father, Bob Conroy, has tried to change his son’s public image as a racist. At a Patchogue performance in May of 2011 of “What Killed Marcelo Lucero?,” a play inspired by the hate crime, he told the audience, “I’m sorry for what’s happened, but I feel that the problems of a nation fell on a 17-year-old child.”
Jose Pacheco, Nicholas Hausch, Chris Overton, Anthony Hartfold, Jordan Dasch and Kevin Shea, the other teens arrested for attacking Marcelo Lucero
In 2008: Pacheco, 17, the son of a black mother and Puerto Rican father, was arrested and charged with gang assault along with his white peers Nicholas Hausch, 17; Chris Overton, 16; Anthony Hartfold, 17; Jordan Dasch, 17; and Kevin Shea, 17. At first, the teens pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.
During the murder trial in 2010: All seven admitted to engaging in numerous racially motivated attacks. All of the teens eventually pleaded guilty to gang assault, conspiracy and attempted assault as a hate crime in regards to Lucero’s murder.
Latest news: In Aug. 2010 State Supreme Court Justice Robert W. Doyle sentenced Pacheco to seven years in prison. Nicholas Hausch was sentenced to five years in prison. Christopher Overton received six years. The four others are currently serving out seven-year sentences. Hausch and Overton received shorter sentences because unlike the other, they were not involved multiple previous assaults.
Joselo Lucero, Marcelo Lucero’s younger brother
In 2008: Shocked by his brother’s death, Joselo Lucero became an outspoken critic of the anti-immigrant violence in Suffolk County. The Lucero family also filed suit against all the parents of the convicted teens and the Village of Patchogue for $40 million, according to the New York Times.
During the murder trial in 2010: After the State Supreme Court issued its verdict for Conroy, Joselo Lucero said he was satisfied that justice had been served. “The hunting season is over, at least for now,” he told reporters from the New York Times, alluding to the convicted teen’s sport of tracking down and harassing Latinos.
Latest news: Joselo Lucero has since left Patchogue and now participates in numerous public awareness events about hate crimes against Latinos. Speaking at a press conference on Sept. 15 of this year, Lucero said, “I want to know who is going to be accountable for all these crimes.” He asserted that Suffolk County police officials who failed to investigate hate crimes should be discharged from their positions, WNYC reported.
Watch a video of Joselo Lucero speaking to a group of students in Queens, N.Y.
Paul Pontieri, Mayor of Patchogue
In 2008: Pontieri, who grew up two blocks from where Lucero bled to death, began reaching out to the Latino community in the wake of the hate crime to discuss racism in the community. Several months after the murder, the mayor also encouraged the Patchogue Board of Trustees to pass a resolution asserting that anti-immigrant rhetoric not only harms targeted groups but also “our entire social fabric.”
During the murder trial in 2010: Pontieri did not attend Conroy’s trial, saying, “because of the intensity and publicity generated by it… I felt that if I attended the trial it would be perceived as a publicity grab,” he explained to MetroFocus. “I was also advised…that I should avoid any contact with the families during the trial,” Pontieri added. However, after the trial ended, Pontieri traveled to Gualaceo, Lucero’s hometown in Ecuador, on a mission of good will.
Latest news: The mayor makes public appearances on the anniversaries of Lucero’s death. He is featured prominently throughout a new documentary airing on PBS, “Not In Our Town: Light in the Darkness,” which examines the Patchogue community’s response to Lucero’s murder.
“Change doesn’t happen over night, but it’s really the adults who frame the conversation about immigration,” the mayor told MetroFocus in an interview this week. “Young people either hear about it at the dinner table or on the news…What do you think kids are going to believe if they see a congressmen or a news anchor saying ‘illegal immigrants are taking our jobs?’” he asked.
Megan O’Donnell, Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney and lead prosecutor in the Lucero case
In 2008: “My first reaction was shock, that this type of hate or bias would motivate this crime. And then my second reaction was just simply trying to put the evidence together,” O’Donnell said in an interview with Patrice O’Neill, director of the “Not In Our Town: Light in the Darkness“ documentary. “We had evidence coming from seven separate defendants as well as other witnesses and we had to parse through all of it and try to put together what actually happened on that night,” she added.
During the murder trial in 2010: In her opening remarks during the trial of Jeffrey Conroy, O’Donnell asserted that Lucero’s murder was a culmination of a series of attacks targeting Latinos in the Patchogue area. As the trial began, she argued that Conroy and his friends set out “to find a Hispanic person to randomly and physically attack…They were looking for blood, specifically Mexican blood.”
O’Donnell later stated that the case’s more difficult issue was whether Jeffrey Conroy would be charged with murder or manslaughter. “…That’s where we had to parse the evidence and try to figure out: was the intention to kill Marcelo Lucero or was it simply to seriously injure him?”
Latest News: Lucero’s death was the first murder prosecuted as a hate crime in Suffolk County history. O’Donnell said, “everyone has their own idea or notion about what hate means and everyone, every parent for instance, teaches their children what hate means. But in the courtroom and in the statutes, hate crime has its own legal definition and that’s what I wanted to convey.”
Steve Levy, Suffolk County Executive
In 2008: At first, Levy minimized the significance of Lucero’s murder, saying it would have been just a “one-day story” if the crime happened elsewhere. The comment outraged Long Island activists who then accused Levy of creating a climate of fear for Latino residents; Levy had at one point publicly warned undocumented residents that they “better beware” according to reports. Levy apologized a week later for his comment on Lucero’s killing, but continued to deny any link between the death and his administration’s policies on undocumented Latino immigrants.
During the murder trial in 2010: Before the trial began, the U.S. Department of Justice began an investigation into the Suffolk County Policy Department’s method of handling hate crimes. The county legislature also created a Hate Crimes Task Force to look into the causes of attacks against Latino residents. The investigation is ongoing.
Latest News: In response to the federal probe, Levy said in an emailed statement: “Some recommendations are constructive and will be implemented, many others we are already doing, and some we disagree with. With the many reforms we have made over the last few years, we are likely far ahead of other like counties. “
Levy is leaving his position at the end of this year. “His successor will have a lot of work to do to repair toxic relations with Suffolk’s immigrants and reform a police force that has shirked its responsibility to protect all residents,” The New York Time’s said in a Sept. 25 editorial.
Gilda Ramos, librarian assistant at Patchogue-Medford Library
In 2008: Ramos, a Spanish-speaking library assistant, provided new immigrants with language classes and community programs at the Patchogue-Medford Library. A week before Lucero’s murder she learned that new immigrants were afraid to attend evening ESL classes at the library for fear of being attacked at night. After the murder, Ramos initiated a series of community meetings at the local library.
Latest news: After Lucero’s death she became a translator for the Latino community in Patchogue. As a result of her work with the immigrant population, Ramos has been named the 2011 Paralibrarian of the Year by the Library Journal, a national magazine.
WATCH VIDEO: “Not In Our Town: Light in the Darkness,” a new documentary airing soon on PBS, follows those impacted by the death of Marcelo Lucero over the course of two years.
This story is part of a series related to intolerance, discrimination, hate crimes and bullying in association with the Not Our Town initiative and documentary. The documentary will premiere on PBS on Sept. 21. Click here for local listings.