Outgoing New York governor, David Paterson, has commuted the sentence of an African-American man who fatally shot and killed an unarmed Italian-American teenager in a case many believe should have been charged as a hate crime.
John H. White, 57, was convicted of manslaughter and criminal possession of a weapon for shooting Daniel Ciccario, 17, point-blank in the face on August 9, 2006, reports The New York Times. Drunk and yelling racial slurs, Ciccario and a group of White youths stood at the foot of the driveway of White’s Suffolk County home and challenged his son, then-19-year-old Aaron, to a fight. The elder White came out of his home with an unlicensed Beretta pistol, shooting Ciccario at point-blank range in the face, killing him.
The spark that ignited Ciccario’s rage that night was a fake MySpace page created by a friend, reports The New York Post. Michael Longo testified in court that he used the webpage to impostor Aaron White, filling the site with hatred against mutual friend Jenny Martin, including threats to rape her.
After reading the rape threats, Martin went to Ciccario for help. Ciccario went to White’s home looking for a fight.
White testified during his trial that the incident reminded him of stories he heard while growing up in Brooklyn of how the Klu Klux Klan burned down his grandfather’s business in rural Alabama, reports The New York Daily News. Calling the group of Caucasian youths a “lynch mob,” White claimed he only shot Ciccario when the Italian-American teen “lunged” at him.
White was sentenced to only 2-to-4 years in prison for a sentence that has a maximum of 15 years, prompting the Ciccario family to launch an emotionally-charged press conference damning the judge’s ruling. “Let’s see what happens when Aaron White gets shot,” Cicciaro’s father, Daniel Sr., screamed over a background of quiet sobbing heard from mom Joanne and other family members.
Daniel Sr. later retracted his passionate statements after police began investigating him.
To add insult to injury, White remained free on bail while his case went through appeal. At the time of his release, White had only served five months of his sentence and would have been eligible for parole in October 2011, reports The New York Times.
White’s lawyer, Frederick K. Brewington, cautioned against viewing the commutation as having a racial bias, and the timing of his client’s release is “serendipitous” with the end of Paterson’s time in office. However, racial motives are a hard factor to ignore, given Governor Paterson’s history on matters of race.
New York’s first Black governor infamously whined that reporters who described him as the “accidental” governor were being “overtly racist” (despite the fact that the term “accidental” has been used to describe many politicians, most of whom have been White); Patterson blamed the GOP of using “overt racism” during the 2008 US Presidential campaign against Barack Obama; he whined that an SNL comedy skit was “overtly racist” against him; he settled a US$1.5 million reverse discrimination lawsuit filed by a 26-year veteran White photographer, who was fired and replaced by an African-American; and Malcom Smith, a Democrat and Paterson ally, reportedly fired 200 State staffers because they were White shortly after taking office last January, and replaced them with minorities.
Paterson decided to shorten White’s sentence after a heavy campaign by supporters and many Black leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton. The governor consulted with the Leftist activist twice while making his decision, but never spoke to the Ciccero family, reports Newsday.com. Paterson also called to tell Sharpton that White would be home for Christmas, but never called the Ciccero family.
“I was delighted to hear it,” Sharpton said, while adding that Paterson’s decision was not the result of his or any other “activist groups” who lobbied for White’s release.
Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota was sharply critical of Paterson for not consulting with the Ciccero family.
In addition to Paterson’s history of having a chip on his shoulder regarding matters of race, he reportedly plans to make more pardons in immigration cases before leaving office. The governor began a special clemency process in the spring intended to help permanent legal residents who were at risk of deportation because of long-ago or minor convictions. This month, he pardoned six of those immigrants, including a financial administrator at the City University of New York.
Daniel Sr. had nothing to say about the commutation when reached for comment by the Times. But one anonymous relative told The New York Post, “Of course, he’s angry. The guy already had a light sentence, and he can’t even serve that out? It’s just ridiculous.” Cicciaro’s ex-wife, Joanne, told The Post she was “upset” about White’s release but declined to say anything further.
In a press conference outside his home, White told reporters that he felt “blessed and highly favored” by the commutation, thanking his family and the governor.
Brewington told reporters that Governor Paterson’s commutation was “an appropriate end of justice in this situation,” although, “we remember that in this situation, a young man’s life was lost, and the White family will never forget that, and keep the Ciccero family in their prayers.”