A federal jury in Scranton, Pa., convicted Derrick Donchak and Brandon Piekarsky of a hate crime on Thursday for killing a 25-year-old Mexican immigrant named Luis Ramirez in July 2008.
CNN reports the all-white jury deliberated for six and a half hours before returning its verdict. The two will be sentenced on Jan. 24 and face life in prison.
In May 2009, Donchak and Piekarsky, along with two other former high school football players involved in the attack, were found not guilty of the most serious charges. Piekarsky was acquitted by an all-white jury in Pottsville, Pa., of third-degree murder and ethnic intimidation and Donchak was acquitted on charges of aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation. They were found guilty of simple assault, which carried a maximum two-year sentence.
Their acquittal angered the local immigrant community. It wasn’t until December 2009 that the federal government stepped in to bring hate crime charges, after a grand jury indicted Donchak, Piekarsky, and four other police officers charged with helping to orchestrate a cover-up of the crime. Chief Matthew R. Nestor, Lt. William Moyer and Officer Jason Hayes—who is dating Piekarsky’s mother—face charges of obstruction of justice. Donchak was also found guilty of trying to cover up the beating.
During this trial, Piekarsky and Donchak’s attorneys argued that the beating was simply fueled by alcohol and testosterone and youthful aggression; the prosecution brought witnesses before the jury who testified that the boys shouted racial epithets at Ramirez, including calling Ramirez a “spic,” and repeatedly kicked him in the head after he fell down.
“Four people attacked one person because of his race and because they didn’t want people like him living in their town,” Assistant Attorney General Myesha K. Braden told CNN.
Ramirez’s killing was one of many hate crimes that have swept across the country in an uptick of anti-immigrant violence. This year rants against “anchor babies” and “lllegals” have swept across the country, accompanied by a parallel rise in anti-Latino hate crimes, the Southern Poverty Law Center found earlier this year.
ColorLines’ Jamilah King covered the troubling rise of hate crimes, and the relationship between language in the public discourse and violence on the ground:
The report also places blame for the uptick squarely on the shoulders of politicians’ whose hefty anti-immigrant talk has severely driven anti-Latino sentiment. In one notorious incident, Texas Republican Reps. Louie Gohmert and Debbie Riddle warned the world of “terrorist babies.”
Ramirez’s mother Crystal Dillman told the AP she “couldn’t be happier.”
“My family finally gets justice—well, some justice—and Luis can finally rest a little bit easier in peace knowing that some justice was served,” Dillman said. “It’s like a burden’s lifted off my chest to know that something was done for Luis.”
Donchak and Piekarsky are set to be sentenced on January 24. The trial for the police officers begins next year.