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Bail denied for teens on hate-crime charge

The two pleaded not guilty to a charge of beating a Mexican man to death in 2008.

WILKES-BARRE - A federal judge denied bail yesterday for two Pennsylvania teenagers who pleaded not guilty to a hate-crime charge in the death of a Mexican immigrant, noting that one defendant was accused of kicking the victim in the head "as if you were kicking a field goal."

Brandon Piekarsky, 18, and Derrick Donchak, 19, were charged in the July 2008 beating death of Luis Ramirez, 25, in the town of Shenandoah. A separate indictment charges three police officers with obstructing the investigation into Ramirez's death.

Judge Malachy Mannion ruled that Piekarsky and Donchak should remain locked up pending trial, calling them dangers to the community. He set a March trial date.

A Schuylkill County jury acquitted the teenagers in May of the most serious state charges against them - including third-degree murder in Piekarsky's case - angering Hispanic leaders and civil-rights groups. Gov. Rendell then asked the Justice Department to pursue civil-rights charges.

Mannion said the federal government rarely pursues charges in a case already decided in state court.

William Fetterhoff, Donchak's lawyer, denounced the federal charges as "tragic" and "extremely unjustified."

James Swetz, Piekarsky's lawyer, said he planned to challenge the government's jurisdiction in the case.

Prosecutors have cast Ramirez as the victim of a gang of drunken white teenagers motivated by their dislike of their small coal town's burgeoning Hispanic population. Ramirez, a native of central Mexico, was in the United States illegally working at various jobs.

Piekarsky was accused of delivering a fatal kick to Ramirez's head after Ramirez had already been knocked unconscious by another teenager, Colin Walsh, who pleaded guilty earlier this year in federal court to violating Ramirez's civil rights.

Donchak took part in the fight and then conspired with Shenandoah police to cover up the crime, federal prosecutors said.