A black Miller Place homeowner dealing with a mob of white teens allegedly spewing racial epithets outside his home should have called police, not confronted them with a loaded pistol, an appeals court said as it upheld his manslaughter conviction in the death of one of the teens.
The ruling by a State Supreme Court appellate panel of four judges rejected several legal arguments made by attorneys for 56-year-old John White. The ruling was posted on a court website late Thursday.
White was convicted of second-degree manslaughter in the August 2006 killing of Daniel Cicciaro Jr. He also was found guilty of a weapons charge.
He was sentenced to 2-to-4 years in prison, much less than the maximum of 15 years. He has been free on bail pending the appeal. One of his attorneys, Fred Brewington, said his client is disappointed by the decision and is weighing other legal options.
It was not immediately clear when White’s bail status would be re-examined, Brewington said.
Cicciaro and some friends had been feuding with White’s teenage son through cell phone messages when several carloads arrived outside the White home near midnight. Prosecutors conceded Cicciaro was intoxicated at the time. The conflict was further fueled by a bogus Internet posting claiming Aaron White wanted to rape a female friend of one of the white teens.
White, who testified in his own defense, said Aaron awakened him around 11 p.m. to say the teens had left a party and were headed to their house in a predominantly white community on eastern Long Island.
The construction worker, who testified that he grew up in Brooklyn hearing stories about how the Ku Klux Klan torched his grandfather’s business in Alabama in the 1920s, said he feared a similar attack was about to happen.
He loaded a pistol and gave his son a shotgun and the two went to the end of their driveway — a distance the court noted was 81 feet from their front door. Cicciaro was just 3 inches from the pistol when he was shot in the face, a medical examiner testified.
White claimed the handgun accidentally discharged.
“Cosidering all of these circumstances, there is thus ample support for the jury’s conclusion that a reasonable person in the defendant’s position, and with his background and experiences, would not have believed that the use of deadly physical force was necessary to prevent the teenagers from unlawfully entering or attempting to enter his home to commit a crime, and that the shooting was thus not justified,” the appeals court ruled.
White’s legal team also had argued the jury may have been coerced into a verdict because while it was deliberating on a Saturday night, Suffolk County Court Judge Barbara Kahn had asked if any of them had a religious obligation the following day.
But the appeals panel said, “The mere fact that the trial court’s offer to accommodate religious obligations suggested that deliberations would continue the next day was not coercive and did not constitute error.”
Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said in a statement that he is “pleased that the court agreed with the prosecution that the defendant’s actions were not justified under our law and that this tragedy could have been avoided had Mr. White stayed inside his home and called 911.”
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.