Brandon Piekarsky, 17, and Derrick Donchak, 19, received 7- to 23-month sentences for their roles in the brutal murder of 25-year-old Mexican immigrant Luis Ramirez. It is a case that has galvanized the community of Shenandoah, Penn., creating a hotbed of racial tension in a blue-collar town. An all-white jury convicted the two teens of misdemeanor simple assault. However, they were acquitted of all felony counts, including aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation—charges that would have carried lengthier sentences, and perhaps left the children and fiancée that Ramirez left behind with a sense of justice.
Judge William Baldwin acknowledged the brutality of the attack and the seemingly light sentences that he was handing down to the teens, but he noted that he could only pass a sentence in keeping with the charges the boys were found guilty of. "This wasn't any fight; this was a group of young athletes ganging up on one person. That's not a street fight," Baldwin said, refuting the defense use of the term "street fight" to describe the beating that left Luis Ramirez in a coma for two days before he passed away. "You picked out a guy who wasn't one of you and beat the pulp out of him."
Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has since sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recommending that he pursue civil rights charges in the case. "The evidence suggests that Mr. Ramirez was targeted, beaten and killed because he was Mexican," Rendell said. "Such lawlessness and violence hurts not only the victim of the attack but also our towns and communities that are torn apart by such bigotry and intolerance."
Ramirez's fiancée and the mother of his two children, Crystal Dillman, stood bravely before the court, filled mainly with supporters of the teen killers, and read a statement, saying, "He was my one and only love, and they took him away from me, and they took my children's father."
Gladys Limon, staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund pointed out the frightening 40 percent rise in hate crimes against Latinos between 2003 and 2007 and called on Congress to strengthen hate crime laws. "The failure to hold these defendants responsible for their atrocious crimes denies justice not just to the Ramirez family," Limon said, "but also to the entire community by failing to deter similar crimes in the future."
VISIT MALDEF.ORG TO SIGN A PETITION IN SUPPORT OF THE HATE CRIMES PREVENTION ACT OF 2009.