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Racially charged trial ends in conviction

Sun., Dec. 23, 2007

RIVERHEAD, N.Y. – A jury Saturday convicted a black man of killing a white teen during a racially charged confrontation outside the man’s home despite his claims that he feared a lynch mob had come to attack his family.

Jurors found John White, 54, guilty of second-degree manslaughter in the death of Daniel Cicciaro. White faces a prison term of five to 15 years. He was allowed to remain free on bail until sentencing.

Defense attorney Fred Brewington said White planned to appeal and called the verdict “disappointing for African-Americans” in the area, a predominantly white community on eastern Long Island.

“You have to survive in Suffolk County, where people can roll up on your house at 11:30 at night, threaten you, threaten your family, curse at you … and you’ve got to take it,” he said. Racial slurs are also common, he said.

The victim’s mother, Joanne, said the verdict showed that her son “is finally vindicated.”

“The truth prevailed. … It was never about race. It was about individuals and individuals’ actions,” she said.

Outside the courtroom, the family’s supporters chanted “Dan-O! Dan-O!” and they honked their horns as they drove away. The ruling came on the fourth day of deliberations following an emotional three-week trial that attracted national attention after defense attorneys invoked the nation’s violent racist past in arguing the shooting was justified.

White had testified he grew up hearing stories from family members about how the Ku Klux Klan torched his grandfather’s business in Alabama in the 1920s and feared a similar attack was about to happen.

White testified during the trial that he was trying to protect his family in 2006 when he brandished a gun after a group of teenagers turned up at his house late at night to fight his son.

White admitted on the witness stand that he shot Cicciaro, but said the pistol went off accidentally as Cicciaro grabbed for it. Cicciaro, 17, had a blood-alcohol reading above the legal limit for driving.

Prosecutor James Chalifoux said White should have simply locked the door and called police – and not gone outside to confront the teenagers with a gun.

He sought to downplay the racial element, telling jurors the Brooklyn-raised White never said anything about a lynch mob until the case went to trial, and noted that the Klan attack on his grandfather occurred 30 years before he was born.


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