POTTSVILLE, Pa. - Two young men convicted of simple assault in the beating death of an illegal Mexican immigrant that sparked outrage from Hispanic leaders and civil-rights groups were sentenced yesterday to at least six months behind bars.
Schuylkill County Judge William Baldwin said the sentences for Brandon Piekarsky, 17, and Derrick Donchak, 19, exceeded the usual sentencing guidelines but reflected the "absolute brutality and viciousness" of the attack on Luis Ramirez in Shenandoah on July 12.
Baldwin said he could not consider the racial overtones of the case and the fact Ramirez died from the beating, despite a letter from Gov. Rendell that the judge said had urged him to do so. Both defendants were acquitted of ethnic intimidation and Piekarsky was acquitted of third-degree murder in the trial, which ended last month.
The judge said Ramirez's ethnicity mattered less to the high school football players who beat him up than the fact that he was an outsider.
"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. "You picked out a guy who was not one of you and just beat the pulp out of him."
Piekarsky, who slumped over the defense table after hearing his sentence, and Donchak were directed to report to Schuylkill County Prison in mid-July.
More than a half-dozen teachers, coaches, friends, and relatives testified as character witnesses for the defendants, whose sentences also included penalties for some alcohol-related offenses.
Crystal Dillman, 25, of Shenandoah, Ramirez's fiancee and the mother of his two children, ages 1 and 2, told the defendants: "At least you have your lives. He doesn't because of where he came from."
At the trial, prosecutors said Ramirez had been the victim of a gang of drunk, white locals who disliked the influx of Hispanic immigrants in their town. Defense lawyers said the 25-year-old Ramirez had been the aggressor.
Hispanic leaders and civil-rights groups, along with Rendell, have pressed the Justice Department to pursue civil-rights charges. In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Rendell called the attack "senseless and cowardly."
Piekarsky, who prosecutors said had kicked Ramirez's head after another attacker knocked him unconscious, was acquitted of third-degree murder and ethnic intimidation.
Donchak, accused of pummeling Ramirez while holding a small piece of metal to give his fist more force, was acquitted of aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation.
Two others have pleaded guilty in connection with the attack.