Justice hasn't been served in the murder of Luis Ramirez.
Ramirez, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, was kicked to death in a fight with teens last summer in the central Pennsylvania town of Shenandoah. There was enough evidence of a hate crime for prosecutors to file charges of ethnic intimidation in addition to murder.
Two of the teens went on trial in Schuylkill County this spring. Brandon Piekarsky, 17, was accused of third-degree murder; Derrick Donchak, 19, was charged with aggravated assault.
On May 1, the all-white local jury came back with its verdict. Both defendants were convicted only of simple assault, which carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail. Donchak also was found guilty of supplying alcohol to minors.
But no one has been convicted of killing Ramirez, 25, a father of two.
The U.S. Justice Department reportedly has been investigating this crime. A third teenager, Chris Walsh, already pleaded guilty to federal civil-rights charges and agreed to testify against Piekarsky and Donchak. A fourth teen is awaiting trial as a juvenile.
Gov. Rendell on Friday asked the Justice Department to pursue civil rights charges in the case.
In light of the verdict in Schuylkill County Court, federal authorities should step up their efforts to bring Ramirez's killer or killers to justice. The trial verdict has sent the message that the community is willing to look the other way when an immigrant is killed in front of multiple witnesses in the middle of town.
Tensions between Latino immigrants and whites in the region have been building for years. Those emotions boiled over on the night of July 12, 2008, near the Vine Street Park in Shenandoah, a town of about 5,600.
Testimony indicated that a group of teenage boys confronted Ramirez when they saw him with a 15-year-old girl. The victim was in a relationship with the girl, although he was also engaged to the 24-year-old mother of his two children.
Prosecutors said Walsh knocked Ramirez to the ground with a punch to the head, and they contended that Piekarsky delivered the fatal blow by kicking the victim's head. As the teenagers fled the scene, a retired Philadelphia police officer heard one of them yell, "Tell your [expletive] Mexican friends to get the [expletive] out of Shenandoah or you'll be [expletive] laying next to him."
The beating left Ramirez foaming from the mouth. He died of head injuries two days later in a hospital. Defense attorneys for Donchak and Piekarsky blamed the other teens for causing Ramirez's death.
A few months after Ramirez died, Donchak showed up at a Halloween party wearing a T-shirt saying "U.S. Border Patrol." His attorney said it didn't reflect what is in his heart.
The Mexican American Legal Defense & Education Fund has called the verdict an outrage and is urging people to sign an online petition at www.maldef.org.
MALDEF is asking the Justice Department's civil-rights division to file hate-crimes charges against those responsible for the slaying.