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Detectives: Teens 'were actively seeking victims'

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Officials condemn attack, fatal stabbing of Ecuadoran in Long Island
  • Marcello Lucero, 37, and a friend were attacked late Saturday night
  • Jeffrey Conroy, 17, was charged with manslaughter as a hate crime
  • Six other teenagers charged with gang assault; all seven plead not guilty
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- A Latino group Tuesday expressed outrage over the slaying of an Ecuadoran man, allegedly at the hands of seven teenagers in what police are calling a hate crime.

Marcello Lucero, 37, was stabbed to death in an attack that police say was a hate crime.

The teens' parents bear some of the blame, along with community leaders who have created an inhospitable environment for immigrants, Fernando Fernando Mateo, founder of Hispanics Across America, said at a news conference.

"We understand that some may not welcome us in their neighborhoods, but killing us will not drive us away," Mateo said. "Those that hate us allow us to cut their lawns, build their homes, paint their homes, cook for them, serve their children -- and yet they teach them hate."

Marcello Lucero, 37, was walking to a friend's apartment in Patchogue, New York, when he was attacked late Saturday, police said. He was stabbed in the chest and died of his injuries. A friend walking with Lucero was not injured.

The seven teens were trying "to find Latinos and to assault them," said Suffolk County Police Detective Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick. "That was what they went out to do that night, and that's exactly what they did do. ... They were actively seeking victims."

At a court hearing for the seven Monday, a prosecutor quoted the youths as saying, "Let's go find some Mexicans to f--- up."

Jeffrey Conroy, 17, faces charges of first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime in the attack, police said. He and the other six -- Jordan Dasch, Anthony Hartford, Nicholas Hausch, Christopher Overton, Jose Pacheco and Kevin Shea -- also face charges of first-degree gang assault.

The additional charge against Conroy stems from authorities' belief that he was the one who stabbed Lucero. All of the suspects are 17 except for Overton, who is 16, according to police.

The "hate crime" designation would enhance any sentence imposed upon conviction.

Upon their arrest, all seven of the youths "admitted their involvement and their role in this crime," said Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer.

However, all seven pleaded not guilty when they were arraigned Monday in Suffolk County Criminal Court.

Mateo said that Hispanics Across America and Lucero's relatives have retained a law firm and may file suit against the youths' families "to make sure the parents of these seven kids pay the consequences."

But he and other community leaders also laid blame at the feet of Steve Levy, Suffolk County executive.

"He has brought this hate that exists here amongst the Hispanic community," Mateo said. "He has legislated over and over again against Hispanic immigrants. ... He should be the person not welcome in this community."

The Rev. Alan Ramirez of Brookville Reform Church said, "We all know that Mr. Levy, along with these seven young men, has blood on his hands. And we consider that unacceptable. We ask a responsible Democratic Party to seek Mr. Levy's resignation or removal from office. We do not need our communities to be separated by hatred, intolerance and racial discord."

Attempts by CNN to contact Levy on Tuesday were unsuccessful, as his office was closed for the Veterans Day holiday. On Sunday, however, Levy issued a statement saying Lucero's death "wasn't a question of any county policy or legislation; it was a question of bad people doing horrific things," according to Newsday, which reported that Levy answered no further questions.

In a statement issued by police Sunday, Levy was quoted as saying, "This heinous crime that led to the death of an individual because of his race will not be tolerated in Suffolk County. The suspects will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

New York Gov. David Paterson, in a statement Monday, also condemned Lucero's death.

"Suffolk Police tell us that Mr. Lucero and a friend were attacked late Saturday by seven teenagers who were driving around looking for a Hispanic to beat up," Paterson said. "The senseless and cowardly act by these teenagers cannot stand. ... Mr. Lucero's death is a jarring reminder that we must remain vigilant and continue our fight to eradicate prejudice in our words and in our actions."

Mateo said Tuesday that Lucero's death "is an outrage. ... Those days of noosing, hanging and torturing should be a thing of the past."

Conroy's friends and fellow students told CNN affiliate WABC they do not believe he committed the crime. "He's the nicest guy you will ever meet," one said.

Attempts to contact Conroy's defense attorney were unsuccessful Tuesday.

A candlelight vigil was held Monday night in honor of Lucero.

"I still don't believe my brother's death," Joselo Lucero said. "Today I buried him and I still don't believe that he's dead. ... He's left a real emptiness in my family."

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