October 14th, 2010
06:01 PM ET

Two convicted of hate crimes in immigrant's beating death

Luiz Ramirez died in July 2008 after a street brawl in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania.

A federal jury in Pennsylvania has convicted two men of hate crimes in connection with the beating death of an undocumented Mexican immigrant in 2008.

Derrick M. Donchak and Brandon J. Piekarsky were each charged with a hate crime for fatally beating Luis Ramirez on a street in Shenandoah while shouting racial epithets, according to the Department of Justice.

Donchak’s head dropped as the verdict was read, and his parents wept audibly. Piekarsky's mother, Tammy, said, "We’re going to be OK. We will appeal."

The all-white jury deliberated for about six and a half hours. Donchak and Piekarsky face potential life sentences when they are sentenced January 24. A request for bail was denied.

Jurors also convicted Donchak of trying to cover up the crime with members of the Shenandoah Police Department. Chief Matthew R. Nestor, Lt. William Moyer and Officer Jason Hayes - the boyfriend of Piekarsky's mother - face federal obstruction of justice charges for allegedly impeding the investigation. Their trials are scheduled for January.

Donchak also faces substantial additional time on the conspiracy and obstruction of justice convictions.

He and Piekarsky were tried in state court in 2009 in connection with Ramirez's death. They were acquitted of murder charges but convicted of simple assault and alcohol-related offenses. An outcry ensued from Latino groups and politicians, including Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, urging the federal government to pursue the case.

Federal authorities convened a grand jury, which indicted the pair December 10.

"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 said.

Witnesses testified that racist language was used before and during the attack, Braden said. Ramirez was kicked in the head repeatedly after falling down.

Lawyers for the defendants said that the encounter had been no more than a fight fueled by testosterone and alcohol. William Fetterhoff, a lawyer for Donchak, said Ramirez chased one of the men.

Crystal Dillman, the mother of Ramirez's two children, said she was "ecstatic" over the verdict but still looking forward to the trial of the three Shenandoah policemen.

"It’s nice to know that there is some justice for Luis," she said. "I won't completely move on until the federal trial of the police officers is done, until it is proven that there was a conspiracy to stop justice."

- CNN's Rose Arce and Eden Pontz contributed to this report.

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Filed under: Crime • Pennsylvania
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