This post is based on an article Annie Correal reported for El Diario/La Prensa.
Even though 19-year-old Jeffrey Conroy was convicted of manslaughter – not murder – in the 2008 death of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero, many immigrant leaders on Long Island said they were relieved by the verdict.
A Suffolk County jury deliberated for four days before delivering a verdict on Monday, also finding Conroy guilty of gang assault on Lucero and attempted assault on three other Hispanic men. Luis Valenzuela, director of the Long Island Immigrant Alliance said, “I’m relieved. We’re satisfied because they found him guilty of five charges, and all as hate crimes.” “We hope this verdict has sent a message that hate crimes and hunting Latinos will not be tolerated,” he added.
On November 8, 2008, the night Lucero was killed, Conroy and six other teenagers had gone out “Mexican hopping.” Conroy fatally stabbed Lucero when the immigrant tried to defend himself, swinging his belt over his head and striking Conroy.
Immigrant leaders have maintained that the attack was not an isolated incident; and a study by the Southern Poverty Law Center prompted by Lucero’s death documents a pattern of abuse and discrimination toward Hispanic immigrants in Suffolk County that its authors claim goes back several years and is connected to the ant- immigrant rhetoric of high-ranking politicians, including County Executive Steve Levy.
Patrick Young, director of the Central American Refugee Center, referring to the defense’s argument, said, “The idea was that this was kid’s stuff is an insulting defense. When these kids did this they believed they had the support of the community because of what the leaders were saying.” The verdict, according to Young, is going to send out a different message. “It’s going to say ordinary Suffolk residents don’t tolerate hate crimes. It’s a small minority and most people recoil from it,” Young said.
Nadia Marin Molina, director of The Workplace Project on Long Island said the Hispanic community she represents had less confidence in the predominantly white jury, and did not take a guilty verdict as a given.
“A lot of people were worried because it’s Suffolk County,” she said. “I was relieved. I had been worried. There was the doubt that he could go free.” However, she too believed the guilty verdict could mark a change. “We would hope that other people would see what happened to Conroy and think twice before they go out and do the same thing.”
Heidi Beirich, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, in an email after the verdict came down, said, “I think justice was served. It was vicious attack that led to the death of innocent man.” She continued, “In terms of the leadership there in Suffolk, in particular Steve Levy, the murder [is] a sad reminder of what can go horribly wrong when political leaders engage in demonizing a population.”