The killing of an Ecuadorean immigrant by seven high school students was part of a spree in which the teenagers tormented other immigrants while armed with knives and BB guns, prosecutors said.
The teens were indicted Thursday on more serious offenses — including murder as a hate crime for one accused of wielding the knife — than they initially faced when arrested in the Nov. 8 killing of Marcelo Lucero.
About 300 people gathered Thursday in Gualaceo, Ecuador, for a funeral for Lucero, who worked in a dry-cleaning store after arriving in the United States 16 years ago. His gray casket was draped with an Ecuadorean flag, and rose petals were tossed on top. Some in the crowd carried signs saying "No to Racism."
'A feeling of xenophobia'
Lucero's mother and sister carried his remains in two wooden urns from the church to the cemetery, somberly walking about a half-mile through the quiet town of 18,000 in the Andean foothills.
A priest at Gualaceo's main church, the Rev. Jorge Moreno, called Lucero's death "a product of a feeling of xenophobia that makes some people believe they are worth more than others."
Prosecutors on Long Island, east of New York City, said the teenagers had been hanging out with friends when someone suggested they go "beaner jumping," a derogatory term they used as a euphemism for attacking Hispanics. The group drove around Patchogue and encountered a Hispanic man and attempted to rough him up, but the man escaped, prosecutors said.
Shortly before midnight, the group came upon Lucero and a companion walking near the Patchogue train station. The group surrounded their victims, but Lucero's friend managed to flee the scene unharmed, prosecutors said. Lucero tried to fight back, smacking one of the teens with his belt, but was soon overwhelmed by the mob, prosecutors said.
Jeffrey Conroy ended the fight by plunging a knife into Lucero's chest, authorities say. District Attorney Thomas Spota said the other six were unaware that Conroy had stabbed Lucero until he told them as they fled the scene. The prosecutor said that because the other teens did not know about the stabbing until afterward, they were not being charged with murder.
The six suspects were arraigned Thursday on charges including gang assault, conspiracy, attempted assault and attempted gang assault. Lawyers for the six entered not guilty pleas.
Conroy will answer to an upgraded charge of second-degree murder as a hate crime, as well as manslaughter, gang assault and other crimes at a Monday hearing.
Life sentence possible
Conroy could face 25 years to life in prison and the others could be sentenced to five to 25 years if convicted of the most serious charges. Attorneys for all seven have said their clients are innocent.
Advocates for Hispanics and others have spoken out against the killing, which took place days after Barack Obama was elected as the country's first black president.
"It is tragic that a crime of this nature, a xenophobic lynching, happened just as the United States celebrates a historic step forward in which racial barriers have been overcome," Ecuadorean Ambassador Luis Gallegos said last week.