A black man from New York, who was convicted of killing a white teenager, is free Thursday, after Gov. David Paterson pardoned him and commuted his sentence.
John White served just five months on a sentence of two-to-four years for his manslaughter conviction for the shooting death of 17-year-old Daniel Cicciaro, Jr.
On August 9th, 2006, a drunken Cicciaro and four friends showed up outside White's Suffolk County, Long Island home to confront White's teenage son over a bogus rape threat. According to police, they yelled racial slurs and threatened to rape White's wife.
John White, 56, came out of his house armed with a shotgun. White testified that he just wanted to scare them off, when the gun accidentally went off when Cicciaro lunged at him.
The case divided the area along racial lines -- blacks were outraged when he was convicted, while Cicciaro's supporters were angered when White got less than the 15-year maximum sentence. And now this pardon will likely open the old wounds, something Paterson acknowledged in his written decision:
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.
The action I am taking today is one of understanding, forgiveness and hope, which I believe are the essential components of justice.
For his part, White said is happy to be out of prison. "I'm definitely glad to be home with my family for Christmas, and I hope everyone has a pleasant and happy holiday," he said to the media as he arrived home.
There was no immediate comment from Cicciaro's parents, who were not told in advance that White was being released.
But in a statement, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota blasted Paterson for disregarding the feelings of the victim's family:
"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."
Civil rights leader Al Sharpton was pleased. "We salute Gov. Paterson's decision and hope that all families involved will move towards healing. There are no winners in this situation."