Michael Gormley, WTOP-FM (Washington, D.C.), December 23, 2010
New York Gov. David Paterson commuted the sentence Thursday of a black man imprisoned for the racially charged shooting death of a white teenager on Long Island, a decision in the final days of his administration that infuriated the lawyer who prosecuted the case.
Paterson said the five months John Harris White has served was enough time for the emotion-fueled 2006 shooting death of Daniel Cicciaro, 17. Paterson said everybody connected with the case had suffered enough, and White was released Thursday.
A judge sentenced White to two to four years in prison, a fraction of the maximum, exactly four years ago Thursday. He finally went to prison in July this year after his appeals were rejected.
Spota [Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas J. Spota] said a court, upheld by an appellate court, agreed that a reasonable person wouldn’t have believed deadly force was needed that hot summer night.
In a courtroom secured by 18 police officers because of the racial tensions, White testified that he was trying to protect his family when the white teenagers turned up at his house. He claimed his pistol fired accidentally when Cicciaro lunged for it.
The victim had a blood-alcohol reading above the legal limit for driving and was just 3 inches from the pistol when he was shot.
White had said his son, Aaron, woke him around 11 p.m. to say teens he had argued with at a party were headed to the Whites’ house in Miller Place, a predominantly white community on eastern Long Island.
The younger White had complied earlier with a request to leave the beer bash after he was suspected of posting online threats against a teenage girl at the party. The story of the threats turned out to be bogus, but when Cicciaro and others heard about what happened, they headed for Miller Place, making cell phone calls to Aaron White.
“This is an inspiring example of an elected official using commutation powers for good,” said Benjamin Jealous, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The NAACP sought a full pardon.
The Rev. Al Sharpton said that he hoped the families would move toward healing and that the governor “showed great courage and fairness.”
Sharpton had led a rally in Riverhead, the county seat, complaining that none of the teenagers who arrived at White’s house was prosecuted. The district attorney’s office said the White family refused to cooperate with a police investigation.
The spokesman said a canvass of the neighborhood found no evidence or witnesses to corroborate allegations made by White’s attorneys.
A black Long Island man convicted of killing a white teenager was home for the holidays Thursday after Gov. Paterson commuted his sentence.
John White, 56, was released after serving just five months in an upstate prison for killing 17-year-old Daniel Cicciaro Jr.
There was no immediate comment from Cicciaro’s parents, who were not told in advance that White was being sprung.
During his bitter and racially charged trial, White claimed he was trying to protect his family from a “lynch mob” when he fatally shot Cicciaro Jr. on Aug. 9. 2006.
Paterson said he realized his decision–reached in the waning days of his administration–would tear open barely healed wounds.
Paterson, who has a week left in office before giving way to newly elected Andrew Cuomo, is not the first governor to spring a convicted felon early.
“We salute Gov. Paterson’s decision and hope that all families involved will move towards healing,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said. “There are no winners in this situation.”
But Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota ripped Paterson for callously disregarding the feelings of the victim’s family.
A drunken Cicciaro was killed at the foot of White’s driveway after he went to the home with four friends late at night, bent on fighting Aaron White over a bogus rape threat, police said.
They yelled racial slurs and threatened to rape Aaron White’s mother, according to cops.
White testified he grew up in Brooklyn hearing stories about how the Ku Klux Klan torched his grandfather’s business in Alabama. He said wanted to scare the mob away and that his gun accidentally went off when Cicciaro lunged at him.
Prosecutors said that instead of calling the cops, White went out to confront the teens and shot Cicciaro in the face from three inches away.