Gov. Rendell fired back yesterday at criticism from a Schuylkill County judge over the governor's request for tough sentences in the high profile beating death of a Mexican immigrant.

Rendell, speaking at a Capitol news conference, said he felt he had to raise his voice over the brutal beating and the acquittal of the suspects on murder charges.

"It was a moral obligation for me to weigh in," said Rendell, when asked about his reaction to the remarks of Schuylkill County President Judge William E. Baldwin.

Baldwin blasted Rendell from the bench Wednesday during sentencing for two teens on charges connected with the fatal beating of 25-year-old Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala in Shenandoah.

"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 for Brandon Piekarsky and Derrick Donchak given the "sheer brutality" of the attack and because the crime appeared to be "racially motivated."

The youths were acquitted by a jury in May on the most serious charges (Donchak was charged with third degree murder, Piekarsky with aggravated assault). The jury found them guilty on simple assault and alcohol-related charges. Piekarsky was sentenced to six to 23 months and Donchak to seven to 23 months. Both were found not guilty of ethnic intimidation.

Rendell said he also felt he had a moral obligation to make a request to the U.S. Justice Department to open a civil rights investigation into the killing.

"It thought it was horrific," said Rendell. "I thought the jury verdict was inappropriate. It sends the wrong message to citizens."

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