Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Guilty Plea In Fatal Stabbing of Latino Immigrant

Guilty Plea In Fatal Stabbing Of LI Immigrant
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Just moments after a Long Island teenager allegedly plunged a knife into a Hispanic man targeted for violence simply because of his ethnicity, one of his friends urged him to ditch the weapon.

"Throw away the knife," Nicholas Hausch says he pleaded with Jeffrey Conroy as they and five others ran away from what would become a murder scene. Conroy insisted he had washed the blood off the weapon in a puddle, Hausch said, but he doubted they could fool authorities so easily -- he had watched too many "Law and Order" episodes to believe that.

"I said, 'We're not going to get away with it,"' Hausch told a judge on Thursday as he pleaded guilty to gang assault and hate crime charges in the Nov. 8, 2008, killing of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero.

Hausch, 18, is the first of the co-defendants to plead guilty in the case that focused attention on a decade-long animosity between the largely white population that settled on Long Island after World War II and a growing influx of Hispanics, many from Central and South America suspected of illegally entering the United States.

He has agreed to testify in upcoming trials against the six others; the district attorney will then make a sentencing recommendation, but Hausch still could face a minimum of five years in prison.

The U.S. Justice Department announced in October that it has launched an investigation into hate crimes on eastern Long Island, focused particularly on police response. That followed a September report by the Southern Poverty Law Center that revealed "a pervasive climate of fear in the Latino community" in Suffolk County.

Lucero, 37, was walking with a friend near the Patchogue train station at about midnight when they were confronted by the teenagers tooling around town allegedly looking for targets, a somewhat routine avocation for them, according to prosecutors.

His friend ran away, but prosecutors say the teens surrounded Lucero, who tried desperately to fight back, smacking one of his assailants with his belt. Conroy, 18, is accused of plunging a knife into Lucero's chest before running away. Prosecutors say the other six were unaware of the stabbing until Conroy told them.

Conroy is the only one facing murder charges; his attorney did not immediately return a telephone call for comment on Thursday.

"Jeff told us he stabbed the guy," Hausch explained before entering the guilty plea. "No one said, `way to go,' or anything like that. It was more like `you're an idiot."'

Although some of the teens discussed splitting up, according to Hausch, they remained together and were arrested a short time later, just blocks from where Lucero died.

"Nick has always accepted responsibility. He has enormous remorse," defense attorney Jason Bassett said after Hausch entered the plea before state Supreme Court Justice Robert W. Doyle. "Nick fell in with bigger guys, more popular guys and he wanted to impress them."

Besides his role in the Lucero killing, Hausch also pleaded guilty to participating in earlier attacks on Hispanics in the Patchogue-Medford area of eastern Long Island. He admitted that on several occasions, he and a number of other teens had attacked Hispanics merely because of their ethnicity. The assaults included peppering the victim with anti-Hispanic slurs, Hausch said. In one case, Hausch and others shot a BB-gun at an Hispanic man, he said.

Joselo and Isabel Lucero, the victim's brother and sister, arrived in the courtroom during Hausch's appearance.

"It's really a big surprise right now," Joselo Lucero said afterward. "I think it's a really successful moment."

Lucero said he was organizing a candlelight vigil Saturday night in Patchogue to mark the first anniversary of his brother's death. "I'm just trying to have a peaceful event," he said.

The Lucero slaying attracted worldwide headlines. A U.S. Justice Department probe of hate crimes on eastern Long Island has focused particularly on police response.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, or SPLC, sent Spanish speaking researchers to Patchogue to investigate allegations of other bias attacks in the area where Lucero was fatally stabbed. What it found was quote, "frightening."

Its report is based on interviews with more than 70 Latino immigrants in recent months. It says that many of them reported being beaten with baseball bats.

The report finds the violence is part of a disturbing trend, in which "Latin immigrants in Suffolk County are regularly harassed, taunted and pelted with objects hurled from cars. They are frequently run off the road while riding bicycles, and many report being beaten with baseball bats and other objects."

But former Mayor Franklin Whitey Leavandosky says there's no serious problem in Patchogue, only a series of unfortunate isolated incidents.

"I think it goes to idle hands, idle minds of teenagers that have no respect for their fellow man," said Leavandosky on Wednesday.