After a group on teens attacked Angel Loja and his friend Marcelo Lucero near the Patchogue train station on the night of November 8, 2008, Loja approached his friend Marcelo to evaluate his injuries, Loja testified this morning. “As I got close to him, I started to hear this sound,” Loja said. “It was a pretty loud sound. It was blood running out of him…It sounded like a faucet.”
Angel Loja, who had been friends with Lucero since their childhood in Ecuador, testified in Riverhead’s criminal court today in the murder trial of Jeffrey Conroy, accused of stabbing and killing Lucero in a hate crime. His testimony, translated from Spanish to English, described the night of Lucero’s alleged murder in detail, from the beers that Loja and Lucero shared beforehand, to the moment Loja learned, hours after the attack, that his friend had passed away.
The 37-year-old Loja began his testimony on direct examination by answering questions about his background, including his height, 5’9”, and his weight, 165 lbs, both of which are roughly the same today as they were on the night Lucero was attacked, he said.
Loja said that he came to the U.S. in 1994, first living in Manhattan and then moving to Queens before settling in Patchogue a decade ago. When asked how he reached the U.S., Loja said “illegally.”
Loja told the jury how, once in the U.S. he acquired documents that allowed him to work. On the documents, he changed his name to Pablo Loja and his birth date to September 19, 1979.
On the afternoon before the alleged murder, Loja and Lucero met around 2pm at Loja’s apartment on N. Ocean Avenue in Patchogue. The pair had known each other from back when they both lived in Ecuador, since Loja was five-years-old, he said. Their parents had been friends.
After meeting at 2pm, they went to a park, walked around, and visited some stores. Around 6pm, they arrived at Lucero’s apartment, where they chatted, ate, and watched TV. While they hung out at Lucero’s apartment, Loja drank four beers and Lucero drank roughly the same.
While they hung out at the apartment, they both smoked marijuana, Loja said, but didn’t use any other drugs that evening. “I knew that he had tried other drugs,” he said. “Whenever we were together he would just smoke marijuana, but I think that he would do cocaine sometimes.”
After a while, Loja decided to leave. Initially, Lucero wanted to drive Loja home, but Loja said that driving wouldn’t be a good idea, since Lucero had been drinking. Lucero decided he didn’t want to risk getting in trouble, and Loja left and started walking home, Loja testified..
As Loja walked, he wasn’t drinking or smoking marijuana, he noted on the witness stand, but he did have cigarettes. He needed a light, so he asked an “American” man for one. The man offered a light in exchange for a cigarette, and Loja agreed. By the time they’d made the exchange, Lucero had unexpectedly joined them.
“I said, ‘Man, what are you doing here? I already left you at home,” Loja testified. “He said he kept wanting to hang out.”
The pair decided to go to a restaurant nearby Lucero’s apartment, but they didn’t stay long, just using the bathroom and heading out.
Then Lucero asked Loja to accompany him to the Patchogue train station, where Lucero “had met a pretty girl.” Although Lucero was under the impression that she might show up at that time, “no one was there,” Loja said.
After arriving at the train station, Lucero suggested they go to another bar in the area, but Loja didn’t like the idea, he said.
“Marcelo wanted to go to a bar there right in front of the train station nearby,” Loja testified. “I didn’t want to go in that bar because there would be different people than us; American people, and I didn’t want there to be problems.”
Instead, they decided to visit Elder Fernandez, a friend of Loja’s who lived in a house behind the train station. Loja called Elder, who was at home watching some movies, and Elder invited them over.
Loja and Lucero crossed the train tracks and were crossing the train station parking lot when Loja spotted a group of young men approaching them.
“I could tell by the look in their faces that they were furious,” Loja said. “I said, ‘Marcelo, be careful.’”
Loja noticed that it was a large group, and that all of the males were white except for one guy with darker skin. Loja and Lucero continued walking towards Fernandez’s house, which was on Funero Court, just off of the train station parking lot.
Then Loja noticed the group coming toward himself and Lucero. “I took two steps back and I told him that we needed to watch out,” Loja said.
As the group approached the two men, the group called them names. “They started to insult us,” Loja said. “‘Hey, fucking nigger; fucking Mexican; fucking illegals, you come to this country to take our money.’”
The group was speaking in English, but Loja could understand. The group also asked if Loja and Lucero had any money.
To that, Lucero replied, “‘No, why don’t you guys go to work like I go to work, so you can have money,’” Loja said. “That’s when they started attacking.”
The three taller males came towards Loja, and the other four moved towards Lucero. One guy with a white t-shirt punched Loja in the face, but he reacted well enough that the punch didn’t knock him down. At that point, Loja estimated that he was two paces away from Lucero.
After the punch, Loja ran over to the driveway entrance that led to where Elder Fernandez lived. Loja saw Lucero run north, separating the two of them by about 20 feet.
While Loja stood in the driveway, he saw that Lucero had been knocked to the ground. Then the guys who had been attacking Loja ran over to join the attack on Lucero.
Getting up off the ground, Lucero took off his jacket and wrapped it around his wrist. He also pulled off his belt.
“In South American countries, when you’re in a situation where you see a knife or something like that, the first thing you do is find a piece of clothing and you wrap it around your arm so you can defend yourself,” Loja testified. Loja added that he had not seen a knife himself.
Lucero started swinging the belt around in the air, warding off the attackers successfully, Loja said. They backed up a bit, but were still trying to find a way to get at Lucero.
“Then I decided to pull out my belt to go support Marcelo and try to get him away from that crowd,” Loja said.
The group gathered around both Loja and Lucero, and eventually, the pair both fell to the ground. Loja was able to get up quickly, he said, but Lucero stayed on the ground longer.
Loja ran a distance away and called to Lucero to come over to him, but Lucero didn’t respond. Then Loja saw the group of attackers running away, he said.
Lucero first picked up his jacket, and then approached Loja. “I said, ‘Marcelo, are you alright?’” Loja testified. “He said, ‘No, Angel, call an ambulance.’”
Loja got closer to Lucero to see if he was injured. That’s when he noticed that Lucero was bleeding heavily, he said. “When I saw the blood coming out there, I called 911 right away,” Loja said.
The 911 operator answered, but Loja’s battery died and he lost the call. The 911 operator called back, but Loja’s battery died again.
Loja decided to run to his friend Elder Fernandez’s house, just a few dozen feet away. Before that, however, he walked Lucero down into the driveway a bit, “just in case the animals came back to try to hurt him.” Loja sat Lucero down on the ground, he said.
Loja knocked at Fernandez’s door, told him what had happened, and asked him to call 911. Fernandez called, and the police arrived within five minutes.
During the direct examination, assistant district attorney Megan O’Donnell asked, “Was he able to speak to you then?” Loja replied, “No, the last words he said to me was, ‘Angel, call the ambulance, I’m bleeding a lot.’”
Speaking in English, Loja described the attackers to a police officer, who said that officers had found suspects nearby who matched the description. The officer took Loja away to identify the suspects. The last time Loja saw Lucero alive, Lucero was still on the ground, with his body hunched over.
Loja identified the suspects, who were in police custody on Main Street between N. Ocean Avenue and S. Ocean Avenue, Loja said.
At the precinct afterwards, Loja had to wait 2-3 hours to speak with detectives. When he did speak to the detectives, they told him that they were sorry: Lucero had passed away.
After the attack, Loja went back to work for two more weeks. But the fallout from the incident led him to lose his job, he said. “[My bosses] didn’t want to get into any problems with the police, the press,” Loja said. “It was a long time before I got work again, months.”
Loja in turn reached out to Reverend Allan Ramirez, pastor at the Brookville Reformed Church. Loja said that he was out of options financially. “I was even thinking about going back to my home country because I didn’t have a job,” Loja said. “I had lost everything.”
Ramirez reached out to the district attorney’s office, who helped secure a living allowance for Loja. Initially, he received $613 a month from the D.A.‘s office, he said, but in the time leading up to the trial, that amount was dropped down to about $413, he testified.
During the time leading up to the trial, Loja would work as a day laborer. “Sometimes I’d find work, sometimes I wouldn’t,” he said. “Sometimes a week would go by when I would find no work.”
After a lunch break, the cross-examination was slated to begin at 1:30pm. I’m heading back in now.