POTTSVILLE, Pa. (AP) - An all-white jury on Friday acquitted two
Pennsylvania teenagers of all serious charges against them stemming
from the fatal beating of an illegal Mexican immigrant last summer.
Jurors acquitted 17-year-old Brandon Piekarsky of third-degree
murder and ethnic intimidation. The jury cleared 19-year-old
Derrick Donchak of aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation. Both
were convicted of simple assault.
The defendants hugged each other after the verdicts were read,
and friends and family members clapped.
After four days of often conflicting testimony, jurors were left
to sort out the facts of an epithet-filled brawl that pitted
popular football players against a 25-year-old Hispanic who
appeared willing to fight.
Prosecutors cast Ramirez as the victim of a gang of drunken
white teens motivated by their dislike of their small coal town's
burgeoning Hispanic population. Defense attorneys called Ramirez
the aggressor and bitterly accused the district attorney's office
of twisting the facts out of a desperate need to cast blame.
The case exposed ethnic tensions in Shenandoah, a blue-collar
town of 5,000 that has lured Hispanic residents drawn by cheap
housing and jobs in nearby factories and farm fields. Ramirez moved
to the town about seven years ago from Iramuco, Mexico, working in
a factory and picking strawberries and cherries.
Displaying a candid photo of Ramirez, Schuylkill County District
Attorney Robert Franz told jurors Friday, "He was assaulted and he
was beaten and he was killed for walking the streets of Shenandoah.
He didn't deserve that."
Piekarsky was accused of delivering a fatal kick to Ramirez's
head after he'd already been knocked unconscious by another teen.
His attorney, Frederick Fanelli, insisted that one of the
prosecution's key witnesses, 18-year-old Brian Scully, was the
"He's the guy who delivered the kick, and to avoid prison he
needs to lay that kick on someone else," Fanelli said in his
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.
Scully asked the girl, "Isn't it a little late for you to be
out?" That enraged Ramirez, who began yelling in Spanish and
dialing friends on his cell phone. Scully admitted to shouting
ethnic slurs. The verbal sparring soon turned into a physical
altercation as Ramirez and Piekarsky traded blows, though
prosecutors and defense attorneys disputed who threw the first
Donchak then entered the fray and wound up on top of Ramirez.
Prosecutors said he pummeled Ramirez, holding a small piece of
metal in his fist to give his punches more power. Defense attorneys
said Donchak tried to break up the fight between Piekarsky and
Ramirez and denied he had a weapon.
The two sides eventually went their separate ways. But Scully
kept yelling at Ramirez, prompting the immigrant to charge after
Colin Walsh, 17, then hit Ramirez, knocking him out.
"Does Mr. Ramirez fit the description of an innocent soul who
just happened to get picked on by a group of kids?" Fanelli told
jurors in closing arguments. "He's the only adult, and he makes
some bad choices."
Fanelli accused prosecutors of ignoring exculpatory evidence,
including statements by two of Ramirez's friends shortly after the
fight that the kicker wore white sneakers - the color Scully was
He also said prosecutors offered leniency to key witnesses -
including Scully and Walsh, who admitted to knocking Ramirez
unconscious with a single punch to the face - giving them a strong
motive to lie.
Walsh pleaded guilty in federal court to violating Ramirez's
civil rights and could be out of prison in four years. On the
witness stand, he identified Piekarsky as the kicker. So did
Scully, who told jurors he tried to kick the immigrant but missed.
Scully is charged in juvenile court with aggravated assault and
Fanelli derided the prosecution testimony as "bought and paid
Franz, the prosecutor, denied any misconduct on the part of the
district attorney's office.
"This case is not about the government out for a pound of
flesh," he said. Instead, he said, it could be boiled down to a
single sentence: "Never kick a man when he's down."
Franz urged the jury: "Remember Luis Ramirez."
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