Two Pennsylvania teens guilty of simple assault in the fatal beating of an illegal Mexican immigrant that sparked outrage from Hispanic leaders and civil-rights groups were each sentenced to at least six months in prison Wednesday.
Schuylkill County Judge William Baldwin sentenced Brandon Piekarsky, 17, and Derrick Donchak, 19, who were acquitted on the most serious charges against them in the fatal beating of Luis Ramirez on July 12, 2008, in Shenandoah.
Piekarsky was sentenced to six to 23 months in prison and Donchak, who was also convicted of corruption of minors and an alcohol charge, received a sentence of seven to 23 months. Both teens remain free on bail while they consider appeals.
Piekarsky was acquitted of third-degree murder and Donchak acquitted of aggravated assault by an all-white jury last month. Both teens were acquitted of ethnic intimidation.
Baldwin acknowledged that the sentences for both teens were significant and cited the brutality of the attack as the reason. In sentencing the teens, Baldwin said he could not consider Ramirez's death or the role his ethnicity might have played in the attack because Piekarsky and Donchak were acquitted on those charges.
Prosecutors said Ramirez was the victim of a gang of drunken white teens who disliked the influx of Hispanic immigrants in their town. Defense lawyers said the 25-year-old Ramirez was the aggressor.
The jury's verdict angered Hispanic leaders and civil-rights groups, which along with Gov. Ed Rendell have pressed the Justice Department to pursue civil-rights charges against the teens. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Rendell called the attack "senseless and cowardly."
In reaching the verdicts, the jury had to sort through four days of often conflicting testimony about the epithet-filled brawl between popular local football players and a Hispanic man who appeared willing to fight.
According to prosecutors, Piekarsky delivered a fatal kick to Ramirez's head after another teen knocked him unconscious and Donchak pummeled Ramirez while holding a small piece of metal to give his fist more force.
But both were acquitted of the most serious charges against them and the verdicts drew cheers from the defendants' families and cries of outrage from the victim's.
Two other teenagers have pleaded guilty in connection with the attack.
The case heightened ethnic tensions in Shenandoah, a coal town of 5,000 where Hispanic residents have been drawn by cheap housing and jobs in nearby factories and farm fields. Ramirez had moved there seven years ago from Iramuco, Mexico, working in a factory and picking strawberries and cherries.
Prosecutors cast Ramirez as the victim of a gang of drunken white teens motivated by a dislike of the town's growing Hispanic population. Defense lawyers portrayed Ramirez as the aggressor and the brawl as a street fight that ended tragically.
The fight began late July 12 when a half-dozen teens, all Shenandoah residents who played football at Shenandoah Valley High School, were walking home from a block party and came across Ramirez and his 15-year-old girlfriend in a park.
Ramirez became enraged when one of the teens asked the girl why she was out so late. At least one teen admitted shouting ethnic slurs. Lawyers disputed who threw the first punch.
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