Outgoing New York Gov. David Paterson commuted the sentence of a black man three years to the day after a Long Island jury convicted him of manslaughter for fatally shooting a white teen who he claimed threatened his son,
John White, 57, was released from a Saratoga County, N.Y., state prison Thursday after serving more than five months of his original two- to four-year sentence.
Parents Angry at Decision
White had returned to his Miller Place home Thursday, where he used an unregistered gun to shoot 17-year-old Daniel Cicciaro point-blank, in the face, on the night of Aug. 9, 2006.
White, claiming he was protecting his son and his home from a mob of angry white teens, shot Cicciaro after he lunged for White's loaded handgun, which went off accidentally. Teenagers who accompanied Cicciaro said White aimed and fired.
Speaking outside his home in the affluent Miller Place community, White said he felt blessed. "Definitely glad to be home with my family for Christmas," he told media and supporters. "I hope everyone has a blessed and happy holiday."
The dead young man's father, Daniel Cicciaro, told New York's Daily News, "I'm not happy about it. I just can't talk about it right now." His ex-wife, Joanne Cicciaro, told the News, "Of course, he's angry. The guy already had a light sentence and he can't even serve that out? It's just ridiculous."
This case has been overshadowed by racial overtones from the beginning, and Paterson acknowledged that his decision to commute White's sentence could be met with disapproval.
"Our society strives to be just, but the pursuit of justice is a difficult and arduous endeavor," the governor said is a statement. "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. 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.
"The action I am taking today is one of understanding, forgiveness and hope, which I believe are essential components of justice."
Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas J. Spota had tough words for Paterson.
"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 statment.
Teens' Dispute Began at a Party
White's supporters have applauded the governor's decision.
Paterson leaves office in eight days.
In an earlier interview with ABC News, 19-year-old Aaron White described the late-night confrontation that led to the shooting, saying the teens were "just yelling out racist words. 'We're gonna beat your effin n***** ass,'" he said.
The dispute started with a bogus Internet message, attributed to Aaron White, threatening to rape a white girl; it was later learned that another teen had written the message in White's name. On the night of the shooting, White showed up at a party at that girl's home, where alcohol was served. He was asked to leave, and soon after, her friends learned of the message and demanded a meeting with White.
White said he woke his father almost immediately. But evidence at the trial showed that the Whites had never called police in the 20 minutes that elapsed after his son first warned his father that the teens were on their way.
When the teens showed up outside his home, John White said they were like a lynch mob. He recalled a previous attack on his grandfather by the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama.
Daniel Cicciaro, told ABC News in 2008 that his son made a mistake using racial epithets, drinking and confronting White, but that it was not grounds for killing his son. Joanne Cicciaro said she doesn't understand why he failed to call 911, even after he shot her son.
"If it was an accident, what's your first reaction? 'Oh my God, what did I do? Oh my God, I can't believe it, I'm so sorry.' Did he do that?" she said in an earlier interview with ABC News. "No. He very deliberately just turned around, walked back up his driveway, like nothing happened, while my son is there, bleeding in the street."
The Cicciaros have also said they were disappointed in the length of White's sentence. Had White remained behind bars, he would have been eligible for parole in February 2012.
Because he received a commutation and not a pardon, White's conviction stands, and should he break the law again, his commutation would be voided.