In his waning days in office, N.Y. Gov. David Paterson on Dec. 23 commuted the sentence of a Black man imprisoned for the racially charged slaying of a White Long Island youth.
John H. White, 56, served five months of a two- to four-year prison sentence for the August 2006 shooting death of Daniel Cicciaro, 17, according to the Associated Press. Paterson said in a statement that by commuting the sentence he hoped to help families of both men move on.
“While the incident and Mr. White’s trial engendered much controversy and comment, and varying assessments of justice were perceived, its most common feature was heartbreak,” Paterson said in the statement. “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.”
According to The New York Daily News, Cicciaro was among a carload of five White teenagers who arrived at the White home on Aug. 9, 2006 to continue a feud with White’s 19-year-old son over a false rape threat. White shot and killed Cicciaro, who was drunk at the time, later saying he was protecting his family from a lynch mob and that his gun accidentally went off when Cicciaro lunged at him, according to the Daily News.
White was found guilty in March 2008 of manslaughter and owning an illegal weapon, and was sentenced to 1 1/3 to four years for the former charge and two years for the latter, to be served simultaneously, according to the AP. He began serving his sentence in July, when his final appeals were rejected.
Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota blasted Paterson for the decision.
“I strongly believe the Governor should have had the decency and the compassion to at least contact the victim’s family to allow them to be heard before commuting the defendant’s sentence,” Spota said in a statement.
However, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous commended Paterson’s action.
“Our hearts go out to the Cicciaro family for the loss of their loved one,” Jealous said in a statement. “The events of August 9, 2006 can only be described as tragic. That tragedy has been compounded by the decision to imprison a dedicated father for defending his family and home from attack by an angry group of people that intended to do them harm.”
According to the AP, White’s son had been confronted at a party that night after he was suspected of posting online threats against a female teen at the party. Those suspicions were false, but Cicciaro and others decided to follow White to his home in Miller Place, a majority-White community in eastern Long Island.