POTTSVILLE - Two teenagers convicted of simple assault in the beating death of an illegal Mexican immigrant that sparked outrage from Hispanic leaders and civil-rights groups were each sentenced yesterday to at least six months behind bars.
Schuylkill County Judge William Baldwin said that the sentences for Brandon Piekarsky, 17, and Derrick Donchak, 19, exceeded the usual sentencing guidelines but that they reflected the "absolute brutality and viciousness" of the attack on Luis Ramirez in the town of Shenandoah last July 12.
Baldwin said that he could not consider the racial overtones of the case or that Ramirez died of the beating - despite a rare letter from Gov. Rendell urging him to do so. Both teens were acquitted by an all-white jury of ethnic intimidation, and Piekarsky was acquitted of third-degree murder in the trial that ended last month.
The judge said Ramirez's ethnicity mattered less to the high-school-football players who beat him than that he was an outsider. One witness heard from a block away the thuds of shoes kicking Ramirez, he said.
"This wasn't any fight. This was a gang of young athletes ganged up on one person," Baldwin said before about 100 people at the hearing.
Piekarsky, who slumped over the defense table after hearing his sentence, and Donchak were directed to report to Schuylkill County Prison in mid-July. Neither spoke at the sentencing.
More than a half-dozen teachers, coaches, friends and relatives testified as character witnesses for the defendants.
Crystal Dillman, 25, of Shenandoah, the mother of Ramirez's two children, ages 1 and 2, sobbed as she read a statement to the court.
"At least you have your lives," she told the defendants. "He doesn't because of where he came from." *