Pa. men face 2d trial in immigrant’s death
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — The hate crime trial of two former high school football stars will begin today in a federal court in Pennsylvania.
Brandon Piekarsky and Derrick Donchak are charged in connection with the fatal beating of Luis Ramirez, 25, an illegal immigrant, during a brawl two years ago in Shenandoah. An all-white jury acquitted the defendants of state charges last year.
The question for a jury is whether the two former high school football stars committed a federal hate crime.
The case was brought by the US Justice Department’s civil rights division after an all-white jury acquitted the defendants of state charges last year. Jury selection begins today at the courthouse in Scranton.
A guilty verdict in the high-profile trial could send Piekarsky, now 18, and Donchak, now 20, to prison for life, as well as soothe the anger felt by Ramirez’s supporters after the May 2009 verdict in Schuylkill County Court. Piekarsky was cleared of third-degree murder and ethnic intimidation; Donchak avoided aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation charges. Both were convicted of simple assault.
A separate indictment charges Shenandoah’s former police chief and two officers with sabotaging the investigation into Ramirez’s death by altering evidence and lying to the FBI. They are scheduled to go on trial early next year.
Gladys Limon, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said the trial this week represents a new chance to hold the perpetrators accountable.
“More than two years after this brutal beating, the family and the public will for the first time have the opportunity for justice,’’ said Limon, who has followed the case closely and accompanied the American mother of Ramirez’s children to the first trial. “We know the state prosecution resulted in a complete miscarriage of justice.’’
Prosecutors are expected to portray Ramirez as the victim of drunken thugs motivated by their dislike of the growing Hispanic population in Shenandoah, an old mining town in the coal fields of northeastern Pennsylvania. They say Piekarsky and Donchak shouted obscenity-laced ethnic slurs at Ramirez during the brawl, telling him to “Go back to Mexico.’’
The defendants say that Ramirez’s ethnicity had nothing to do with the melee, that he was the aggressor, and that the prosecution is politically motivated.
The government’s theory, that Piekarsky and Donchak attacked Ramirez because of his ethnicity and wanted him and other Latinos to leave Shenandoah, is “just completely not only false, but ridiculous,’’ said William Fetterhoff, Donchak’s lawyer.