Teenage jealousy, racial tensions, too much alcohol and a single gunshot: All those elements came together on Aug. 9, 2006. And when it was over, Dano Cicciaro, a white teenager, lay dead, while John White, an African American family man, stood accused of murder.
The incident and the trial that followed would spark racial tensions in a quiet, overwhelmingly white suburb. White was convicted of manslaughter last December, which was just the beginning of the story. Now, in an exclusive interview with "20/20" co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas, White says that the incident was a terrible, tragic accident.
In 2004, White, 53, and his family moved to Miller Place, a tranquil seaside suburb on Long Island, N.Y., and his son Aaron entered Miller Place High School as a senior. Aaron White was just one of four black students but he made a big effort to become part of his class and succeed in school. He attended neighborhood gatherings where auto-obsessed teens showcased their rides. Few at those get-togethers were more passionate about cars than 17-year-old Daniel Cicciaro. Known to everyone as Dano, he'd been a regular at his father's garage since he was 8 years old and planned to follow in his father's footsteps.
They were two kids with promising futures, but Dano Cicciaro and Aaron White were about to be set on a tragic collision course. In December 2005, two friends of Aaron's — posing as Aaron in an Internet chat room as a prank — made sexual threats against a local girl named Jennifer Martin.
"It said something along the lines of, 'Let's get to Jennifer Martin's house and rape her,'" recalled Jennifer, who was 15 at the time. "It scared me a lot. It terrified me."
Aaron never told Jennifer that he wasn't involved in the prank, although he told several others, including Jennifer's boyfriend, that he'd never written anything about her.
By the following summer, Aaron, 19, thought the incident with Jennifer had been long forgotten. But on the night of August 9, he was invited to a birthday party for Jennifer's brother Craig at the Martin home. But Jennifer says she was still unaware that Aaron was not the one who had threatened her. "I did not expect to see Aaron White at all," she said. "When he walked in my back door it just sent chills up my spine."
When Aaron arrived at the party shortly after 10 p.m., there were about two dozen teens there, including Dano Cicciaro. Within minutes, Jennifer prompted Dano, a longtime friend of hers, to ask Aaron to leave.
"I just said, okay and I left … it's not my house, not my property," Aaron said. "I have no right to question him."
After Aaron left, Jennifer told Dano about the Internet threat and Dano got angry and decided he was going to call Aaron to confront him. A toxicology report would later reveal that Dano Cicciaro had a blood alcohol level of 0.14 — enough to show that he was intoxicated.
According to Aaron, shortly after he left the party, he received a call from Dano, who he says was using racial slurs and threatening him. That conversation, beginning at 10:32 p.m. and less than two minutes long, sparked a series of frenzied phone calls between the two. The argument escalated to the point where Dano made a decision to go to Aaron's home. Dano and a friend left in one car, and were soon followed by a second carrying three more teenagers, including Anthony Simoene and Thomas Maloney, who says he had no idea how bitter the argument had become.