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Trial under way in New York immigrant killing

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Marcello Lucero, an Ecuador native, was killed while walking to a friend's house
  • Prosecutors say 19-year-old Jeffrey Conroy and six friends targeted Latinos to assault
  • Prosecutors say teens targeted Latinos in sport they called "beaner-hopping"
  • Four of the seven defendants have pleaded guilty, district attorney's office says
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Riverhead, New York (CNN) -- A murder trial that casts light on racial and ethnic tension on Long Island, New York, entered its second day Friday.

Prosecutors say 19-year-old Jeffrey Conroy and six friends targeted Latinos to assault in 2008. Conroy is on trial for second-degree murder as a hate crime in the death of Marcello Lucero, a 37-year-old native of Ecuador who was stabbed in the chest November 8, 2008, while walking to a friend's house in Patchogue, New York.

Prosecutors say the teens targeted Latinos as part of a sport they called "beaner-hopping."

"We're looking to make sure that what happened in Patchogue doesn't happen again in any part of this country," said Fernando Mateo, a spokesman for Lucero's family.

Conroy faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder.

Four of the seven defendants have pleaded guilty to various charges and may testify against Conroy, the Suffolk County District Attorney's office said in a statement.

In addition to the charge of second-degree murder as a hate crime, Conroy is charged with first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime, gang assault, conspiracy and three counts of attempted assault. The three attempted-assault charges refer to efforts to assault three Latinos other than Lucero.

In a decision to consolidate the charges related to the attacks, Justice Robert W. Doyle noted that "the similarities between the separate alleged crimes is striking, the motivation for the attacks is the same, and the victims are all Hispanic and were attacked in the same general vicinity in Suffolk County," the district attorney's statement said.

A recent report from the Southern Poverty Law Center found that Latinos in Suffolk County have lived in an environment of intolerance and violence directed at them. The atmosphere of intolerance is stoked in part by anti-immigrant groups, an indifferent police department and county leaders, according to the report.

The law center, which researches and keeps tabs on hate groups, became interested in the Long Island county after Lucero's death.

After four months of research in Suffolk County that included interviews with more than 70 Latino immigrants, 30 local religious leaders and other community leaders, the law center said it found a pattern of ethnic intolerance going back 10 years.

Low-level harassment of Latinos in Suffolk County is common, the report said.

"They are regularly taunted, spit upon and pelted with apples, full soda cans, beer bottles and other projectiles," the report said.

Latino residents riding bikes have been run off the road, and others have been beaten with baseball bats or shot at with BB guns, the report said.

CNN's Adriana Hauser contributed to this report.

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