Jury Convicts Black Man in Shooting Death of White Teen
Long Island Case Involved Questions of Race, Recklessness
By Frank Eltman
December 24, 2007
RIVERHEAD, N.Y. -- A black man who invoked images of lynch mobs in explaining why he killed a white teenager has been convicted of second-degree manslaughter because a jury rejected defense lawyers' arguments that his actions were justified.
Jurors reached a verdict Saturday night after four days of deliberations and an emotional three-week trial that flared around questions of race and recklessness.
The defendant, John White, raised the nation's history of racist violence in describing why he brandished a gun at a group of angry white teenagers who came to his house on Aug. 9, 2006. White ultimately shot Daniel Cicciaro, 17, in what he said was an accident but a prosecutor said was the result of poor judgment.
Saying White plans to appeal, defense lawyer Fred Brewington called the verdict "disappointing for African Americans" in the area.
"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, call you a [N-word], and you've got to take it," he said.
But the slain teenager's mother, Joanne Cicciaro, said the case "was never about race. It was about individuals and individuals' actions."
White, 54, remains free on bail until sentencing, when he faces a prison term of five to 15 years. White was also convicted of a weapons-possession misdemeanor that carries a penalty of two to seven years in prison; it would probably run concurrently with the other sentence.
The verdict came after a 12-hour deliberation session in which jurors said they were deadlocked -- as they briefly had the day before. The judge told them about 8:15 p.m. Saturday to keep deliberating, and notice of the verdict came about 45 minutes later. Jurors declined to comment.
Outside the courtroom, the Cicciaro family's supporters chanted "Dan-O! Dan-O!" and honked their horns as they drove away. Several supporters had the teenager's nickname, "Dano Jr.," tattooed on their bodies.
"My son is finally vindicated," Joanne Cicciaro said. "The truth prevailed."
The shooting happened outside White's home in Miller Place, a predominantly white community on eastern Long Island. His 19-year-old son, Aaron, had awakened him around 11 p.m. to say that he had been feuding with other teenagers after being asked to leave a party and that several of them were headed to the Whites' house for a confrontation.
John White grabbed a shotgun, then opted for a pistol he had hidden in the garage. He and his son, who picked up the shotgun, went down the driveway to confront the group in the street.
"He wanted to stop these people who said they were coming to kill his son," Brewington said in closing arguments.
White contended that the gun fired accidentally when Cicciaro lunged for it.
Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney James Chalifoux said White should have locked the door and called police, rather than going outside to confront the unarmed teenagers with a gun.
Chalifoux also sought to play down the racial element, telling jurors that the Brooklyn-raised White never said anything about a lynch mob until the case went to trial. The prosecutor noted that the Ku Klux Klan attack on White's grandfather occurred 30 years before White was born.
He quoted White on the night he was arrested as telling police: "I did what I had to do. You might as well put the cuffs on now. This is the end of me."
After the verdict was read, Dan Cicciaro Sr. defended his son. "Maybe now they'll stop slinging my son's name and stop accusing him of all this racism," he said.