Flashback 2007: Black Homeowner Convicted of Second Degree Manslaughter after Shooting Trespassing White Teenager

White, left, and Cicciaro
From the beginning, there have been nagging “what if” questions about the racism underpinning the murder trial in the Trayvon Martin case. Chief among these: What if the races of the murderer George Zimmerman and his 17-year-old victim, Trayvon Martin, had been reversed?

If the confessed killer of a white teenager had been a black man, would it have taken 45 days — or 45 minutes — to charge him with a crime? Would it have sparked serious outrage if this African-American self-confessed killer had asserted on, say, MSNBC that he had no regrets about murdering his young white victim?

And now, in the wake of the jury verdict Saturday night, there is a new question. Would Zimmerman have been acquitted by a predominantly white jury in Sanford, Fla, if he had been black and his teenaged victim had been white?

We can only speculate about how the race reversal might have played out in Florida, but there is an analog to it from 2007 in a white enclave of suburban Long Island that suggests that the Zimmerman trial would have had a different outcome if the races had been reversed:

A Suffolk County jury on Saturday night found a black man guilty of manslaughter for shooting of an unarmed white teenager outside the man’s house last year, ending a racially charged trial.

The jury began deliberating on Wednesday, and on Friday indicated that it was deadlocked and racked with discord. But late Saturday night, it delivered its verdict: The man, John H. White, 54, was guilty of the second-degree manslaughter charge that prosecutors had sought, and of criminal possession of a weapon. Mr. White was allowed to remain free until sentencing, when he will face a maximum term of 5 to 15 years in prison.

Mr. White was convicted of shooting Daniel Cicciaro, 17, point-blank in the face on Aug. 9, 2006. Daniel and several friends had left a party and showed up Mr. White’s house just after 11 p.m. to challenge his son Aaron, then 19, to a fight, and had used threats, profanities and racial epithets. Mr. White awoke and grabbed a loaded Beretta pistol he kept in the garage of his house in Miller Place, a predominantly white hamlet on Long Island…

The trial’s racial overtones were obvious from the start, suggesting that the tension associated with the Deep South was alive in a New York suburb with good schools, high property values and privileged children.

John White testified that he was awakened from a deep sleep by his son who told him that an angry mob of white boys was on its way to their house to attack him. The group, which included Daniel Cicciaro, had mistakenly come to believe an Internet posting indicating that White’s teenaged son intended to rape a girl they all knew.

White said he saw the boys as a lynch mob like the ones his grandfather remembered from his youth in Alabama. In fact, White said the gun he kept in the house had been given to him by his grandfather, who had been driven out of Alabama in the 1920s by the Ku Klux Klan.

The prosecution countered that White could have avoided the confrontation by locking his doors and waiting for police to arrive. Instead, he confronted the youths, according to the New York Times:

Instead of trying to calm the unarmed teenagers, or simply locking his doors and waiting for the police, Mr. White grabbed an unlicensed pistol and stormed out of his house to confront the teenagers, [lead prosecutor James] Chalifoux said.

The prosecutor acknowledged that the teenagers used epithets, but called Mr. White and his lawyers disingenuous in invoking a racial defense, noting that they missed few chances to embellish testimony with inflammatory references, and he said they used the “lynch mob” strategy to distract the jury from the charges.

He cited trial testimony that indicated that Mr. White fanned the gun menacingly at each teenager and that Daniel did not lunge, but rather defiantly slapped the gun away, with Mr. White retraining it on him, then shooting him point-blank in the face.

But Mr. White said the shooting happened accidentally after he began turning to retreat and Daniel lunged at the gun. He testified that he told his wife to call 911.

Three years after White’s conviction, New York Gov. David Paterson commuted his sentence.

Hat tip to Rusty Russell


  • Ben DeSoto
    July 15, 2013 - 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Funny how guns go off “accidentally”. If he had any knowledge on the use of a firearm, he would not have had is finger on the trigger, unless he meant to shoot. The fact that the gun was unregistered is a crime in itself.

  • Frank Galton
    July 18, 2013 - 2:24 pm | Permalink

    The two cases aren’t really analogous. In one, the defendant accepted that in self-defense he intentionally shot someone who was in the act of attacking him. In the other, the defendant claims he didn’t intend to shoot his victim and wasn’t being attacked at the time he fired the fatal shot to the victim’s face, but that his gun went off “accidentally.” Guns rarely go off “accidentally” in the midst of a heated verbal dispute. The defendant in the latter case was pretty obviously lying about the circumstances of the shooting.

    • July 22, 2013 - 10:54 am | Permalink

      Frank Galton: Your analysis is based on the premise that Zimmerman — a man who had deep, personal motivation to lie — was being truthful about his altercation with Trayvon. You’re also agreeing with the jury that Trayvon had no right to defend himself from a stalker. In order to acquit Zimmerman could on grounds of self-defense, the jury in effect found Zimmerman’s victim — the innocent boy he stalked and killed — guilty of attempted murder. This is a completely irrational perversion of justice. The only rationale for it is that the jury — and those who support the verdict — view Trayvon’s life as worthless because he was black.

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