Governor Paterson decided yesterday to commute the sentence for John White, a 57-year-old black homeowner who shot and killed Daniel Cicciaro Jr., an unarmed white 17-year-old, because White feared a “lynch mob” was looking to attack his family. The shooting, which occurred in Miller Place, a predominantly white hamlet in Suffolk, has deeply divided the Long Island’s black and white communities since it happened in 2006. The night in question, Cicciaro and several of his friends, who were also white, left a party and showed up late at the family’s home to challenge White’s son Aaron, then 19, to a fight. The teenagers used racial epithets as they cursed at and threatened Aaron outside the house. According to the Times, the trial, “had racial overtones, as defense lawyers suggested that the tension associated with the Deep South in the civil rights era was alive in 2006, in a New York suburb with good schools, high property values and privileged children.”
Paterson said his decision to commute White’s sentence five months into a prison term that could have lasted up to four years (the maximum legal sentence would have been eleven years) was a clear choice. “My decision today may be an affront to some and a joy to others, but my objective is only to seek to ameliorate the profound suffering that occurred as a result of this tragic event,” he said. Michael Greys of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, claimed that a petition to seek clemency for White had collected thousands of names.
Reached for comment at his auto shop in Port Jefferson, the boy’s father, also named Daniel Cicciaro, had a hard time discussing the governor’s decision. But an unnamed relative told the Post, “Of course, he’s angry,” he said. “The guy [White] already had a light sentence, and he can’t even serve that out? It’s just ridiculous.”
At the house party the teenagers were coming from in 2006, Aaron had been mistakenly accused of posting online threats against a girl. When Cicciaro and his friends showed up, Aaron woke his father up yelling, “Some kids are coming here to kill me.” White said that the racial slurs the teenagers were using reminded him of his visits to the segregated South. White’s grandfather had been chased out of Alabama in the twenties by the Ku Klux Klan. His grandfather taught him how to shoot and had given him the pistol that ended up killing Cicciaro.
White’s lawyer, Frederick Brewington, said the governor’s race played no role in his decision. “He reviewed this matter as he reviews any other matter,” he said. “People have to be careful not to fan the flames of racism. If the governor happened to be white and he commuted the sentence of a white person, would that be an issue?”