Did Gov. Rendell overstep his bounds when he dashed off a letter recommending the harshest sentence be imposed on two teens in the beating death of a Mexican immigrant?

Schuylkill County President judge William E. Baldwin thinks so. Baldwin let Rendell have it from the bench yesterday, according to the Republican Herald of Pottsville.

"I've never before heard of a head of state giving a suggested sentence for a specific criminal case. I am not giving consideration to the governor's recommendation," Baldwin said, of a letter Rendell sent to county District Attorney James P. Goodman on May 28.

Rendell wrote that he believed a maximum sentence was warranted in the case of Brandon Piekarsky and Derrick Donchak given the "sheer brutality" of the attack and because the crime appears to be "racially motivated."

The two teens were acquitted of the most serious charges in the beating death of 25-year-old Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala in July 2008. They were sentenced yesterday on simple assault and alcohol-related charges for which Piekarsky must serve six to 23 months and Donchak must serve seven to 23 months. Both were found not guilty of ethnic intimidation.

Last month Rendell asked the U.S. Justice Department for a civil rights investigation into the killing. He took heat for that letter too from U.S. Rep. Tim Holden (D., PA) and a county commissioner who said it was inappropriate.

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