A Pennsylvania judge sentenced two men to nine years in prison for their involvement in the July 2008 beating death of a Mexican immigrant named Luis Ramirez.
Brandon Piekarsky, 19, and Derrick Donchak, 25, were convicted of a federal hate crime last October, and were part of a group of white high school students in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, who attacked Ramirez as he was leaving a community festival and shouted racial epithets as they beat him to death.
“The jury found that Mr. Ramirez died as a result of his ethnicity or race,” said U.S. District Court Judge Richard Caputo, CBS reported. “This is serious business in America.”
Justice Department prosecutor Myesha Braden said Piekarsky and Donchak may not have intended to kill Ramirez, but thought him “somehow worthy of being beaten like a dog in the streets,” CBS reported. During the trial the prosecution’s witnesses testified that the men, then boys, called him a “spic” and told Ramirez, “This is Shenandoah. This is America. Go back to Mexico.” They shouted these obscenities at Ramirez as they beat him up with a piece of metal called a “fist pack,” and threw punches and kicks to his head. Ramirez died two days later from his injuries.
Their federal conviction and sentencing comes only after both were both acquitted in May 2009 of their most serious charges—third-degree murder, aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation—by an all-white jury. That’s when the federal government stepped in to prosecute the men. Two other teens were convicted of a hate crime under the Fair Housing Act.
When CBS reporters visited the town months after Ramirez was killed, Shenandoah teens could barely contain their outrage over their friends’ charges, and seemed to blame immigrants for the resulting hate crime.
“If that happened to a white person, every church in this goddamn fucking town wouldn’t do a goddamn thing about it,” said one kid while pounding his fist to cheers from a surrounding group. “Just because they’re fucking border-jumpers and came over here.”
“I can’t say it without sounding racist,” said another teenager. “I can’t say, you know, the Mexicans came here and now there’s problems.”
“But is that how you feel?” asked Doane.
“Yeah … Obviously I’ve been here my whole life and I’ve never had a problem. Now there’s problems,” he responded.
Last month a jury came to a split verdict in the case of three officers charged with attempting to cover up the crime. All three were acquitted of conspiracy to obstruct a federal investigation, but the officers were convicted of a range of crimes, including filing a false report and a false statement at FBI.
Piekarsky prepared a statement for the court in which he expressed his condolences to the Ramirez family, but said, “It was not racial. I am not a racist.”
The Pennsylvania men’s sentencing comes days after Arizona Minutemen border vigilante Shawna Forde was sentenced to death for her involvement in planning a home invasion that ended with the brutal deaths of nine-year-old Brisenia Flores and her father Raul. Forde was convicted of first-degree murder for reportedly planning elaborate heists to fund her anti-immigrant activism. Both attacks were considered part of a documented rise of violent attacks, murders and hate crimes against Latinos that have been fueled by anti-immigrant and anti-Latino sentiment fomented by right-wing groups and politicians.