Six months after a rural Pennsylvania jury acquitted three teens of murder and assault in the beating death of a Latino man, a federal grand jury indicted five people in what authorities say was a racially motivated killing.
In addition to two White teens, Derrick Donchak and Brandon Piekarsky – who are accused of beating an undocumented Mexican immigrant as they yelled racial slurs at him – the grand jury also indicted three Shenandoah Police officers. Chief Matthew Nestor and Lt. William Moyer and Officer Jason Hayes are charged with conspiring to obstruct justice in the investigation. Moyer faces additional charges of witness and evidence tampering and making false statements to the FBI.
The victim, Luis Ramirez, was beaten into a coma during a street brawl in the small mining town of Shenandoah, Pa. It was Piekarsky’s last kick to Ramirez's head that resulted in his death a short time later, prosecutors allege. The medical examiner said that Ramirez died from blunt-force trauma to the head.
Prosecutors also allege that the teen mob, including Donchak, 17, and Piekarsky, 19, were angry that Ramirez was engaged to a White female, Crystal Dillman, with whom he had a child. Intoxicated after a night of drinking, the teens allegedly baited Ramirez into a confrontation, according to prosecutors.
In June, an all-White Schuylkill County jury found that Piekarsky had not murdered Luis Ramirez, and convicted him and Donchak of simple assault, a misdemeanor. The jury also acquitted them of aggravated assault, ethnic intimidation and hindering apprehension. In addition, the jury convicted Donchak of corrupting minors, since he had gotten the alcohol for his friends before the fight. They were looking at a maximum 23 months in the county jail.
Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a former Philadelphia district attorney, outraged at the verdict, immediately sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recommending the Justice Department pursue civil rights charges.
"The evidence suggests that Mr. Ramirez was targeted, beaten and killed because he was Mexican," Rendell wrote at the time. "Such lawlessness and violence hurts not only the victim of the attack, but also our towns and communities that are torn apart by such bigotry and intolerance."
Last week, the federal grand handed down indictments against Donchak and Brandon Piekarsky. The indictments, unsealed Tuesday, accuse the duo of a hate crime for beating Ramirez while shouting racial epithets at him, according to the Justice Department. If convicted, they could get life in prison. Donchak could get an additional 20 years in prison if convicted of obstruction, and an additional five years on the charge of conspiring to obstruct justice. He is accused of attempting to orchestrate a coverup with members of the Shenandoah Police Department, the Justice Department said.
The officers, Nestor, Moyer and Hayes intentionally failed to "memorialize or record" statements made by Piekarsky about the incident, and "wrote false and misleading official reports" that "intentionally omitted information about the true nature of the assault and the investigation," the indictment said. The each face up to 20 years in prison on each of the obstruction charges if convicted. They are also looking at a possible additional five years on the charges of conspiring to obstruct justice. Moyer faces an additional five years if convicted of making false statements to the FBI.