A man who agreed to testify against his friends in a fatal gang attack on an Ecuadorean immigrant pleaded guilty Thursday to hate crime charges, telling a judge he knew from the start they wouldn’t “get away with it.”
“Throw away the knife,” Nicholas Hausch says he pleaded with Jeffrey Conroy as they and five others ran from the 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 the judge.
Hausch, 18, pleaded guilty to four counts to settle a nine-count indictment, including conspiracy, gang assault, assault as a hate crime and attempted assault as a hate crime in the Nov. 8, 2008, killing of Marcelo Lucero.
The case has 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, the only one facing murder charges, and the other remaining defendants have pleaded not guilty. His attorney did not immediately return a telephone call for comment Thursday.
“Jeff told us he stabbed the guy,” Hausch explained before entering his 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 a 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.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.