RIVERHEAD, N.Y. — As the jury forewoman pronounced the verdict for first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime — the first of six times the word "guilty" sounded yesterday in a packed Riverhead courtroom — Jeffrey Conroy slumped slightly as he stood next to hisattorney.
The former high school athlete was convicted of fatally stabbing Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero, 37, on Nov. 8, 2008, in Patchogue and of second-degree attempted assault as a hate crime in attacks on three other Latino men, including Lucero's friend Angel Loja.
Conroy, 19, of Medford, avoided a murder conviction and the possibility of life in prison. Still, he faces 8 to 25 years behind bars in what District Attorney Thomas Spota's office said is the first hate-crime conviction in Suffolk County in a case involving a death.
State Supreme Court Justice Robert W. Doyle set sentencing for May 26.
"The verdict that this jury announced will forever be a part of the legacy of Marcelo Lucero," Spota said.
The case that focused international attention on Suffolk County stemmed from that autumn night when, officials say, Conroy and six other teenagers hunted down Latinos for sport, finding their victim near the Patchogue train station.
Lucero swung his belt as the group moved in, hitting Conroy's head. Conroy then stabbed Lucero with a saw-toothed knife, cutting an artery and a vein. He told police in a written statement he had stabbed Lucero, but recanted that statement when he, in an uncommon legal move, took the stand in his own defense.
The manslaughter conviction means the jury found that Conroy intended to cause serious injury to Lucero, but his actions resulted in death. A conviction of second-degree murder as a hate crime — the top charge against Conroy — would have meant that he intended to kill Lucero and did.