Latinos in Pennsylvania Fearful After Teenagers Are Cleared of Serious Charges in Immigrant Death

By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor

There is fear among Latinos in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania.

“The message the justice system sent to young white men here is that they can continue to beat up and kill Latinos, because in the end, a year in jail is all they will have to pay,” Jon Zamudio, a 26-year-old local resident, told New York newspaper El Diario/La Prensa.

Zamudio was referring to the verdict last week that cleared two local teenagers of the most serious charges in relation to the fatal beating of an undocumented Mexican immigrant last summer.

An all-white jury acquitted Brandon Piekarsky, 17, of third-degree murder and ethnic intimidation, and Derrick Donchak, 19, of aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation, The Associated Press reported. Both were convicted of simple assault, a second-degree misdemeanor. They could be sentenced to one to two years in prison.

The victim was Luis Ramirez, a 25-year-old man originally from the Mexican state of Guanajuato. He worked at a factory and in the fields, picking strawberries and cherries. He lived with his American fiancee Crystal Dillman and had two children.

This is how The A.P. described the scene inside the courtroom the day the verdict was announced:

Prosecutors called the beating death of an illegal immigrant from Mexico a hate crime, and they urged an all-white jury in Pennsylvania coal country to punish two white teenagers for their roles in the attack.

But the jury found the teenagers not guilty of all serious charges, eliciting cheers and claps from the defendants’ families and friends — and cries of outrage from the victim’s.

Local newspaper The Standard Speaker reported that, “(l)ater, several cars were seen driving through Shenandoah blowing their horns but there were no other disturbances reported in the borough, nor were any disturbances reported around the courthouse.”

Jury Foreman Eric Macklin told the newspaper that he and the other jurors thought “it’s horrible what happened to Luis Ramirez.”

“I personally was very close to finding them both guilty on every serious count but I was not sure beyond a reasonable doubt,” he added. “I despise racism in every form.”

The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, which assigned a staff attorney to work on the case, issued a statement severely criticizing the Shenandoah verdict. MALDEF’s interim president Henry Solano said,

Tonight there is no justice in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. The jury’s conclusion is an outrage. Luis Ramirez was brutally murdered. Witnesses testified that it was racially motivated as a result of hate and intolerance.

In the week when Congress passed the Hate Crimes Act, this verdict underscores the importance of the passage of this Act. It is time for the Department of Justice to step in and bring justice to the Ramirez family and send a strong message that violence targeting immigrants will not be tolerated and will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

MALDEF urged the Senate to pass the bill approved last week in the House that “strengthens existing federal hate crime laws by authorizing the Department of Justice to assist local authorities in investigating and prosecuting certain bias-motivated crimes.”

In an editorial, El Diario/La Prensa criticized the verdict.

“A gang of white teenagers yelled racial slurs at Ramirez, who was left convulsing in the street and foaming from the mouth. He died of head trauma two days later,” it said. “Despite this, defense lawyers for the accused portrayed Ramirez, not the drunk, out-of-control, anti-immigrant gang, as the aggressor.”

Shenandoah’s immigrant residents are now scared at what the outcome of the trial may mean for them.

“We Latinos do not like going out much during the week, we want to avoid trouble, especially with white youngsters who yell stuff at us,” Clara Vargas, a young Mexican mother of two, told El Diario. “On Saturdays, we do laundry and shopping, and on Sunday we go to Mass.”

“I didn’t expect anything else,” said Melquíades González, another resident. “Because, if the victim had been white and the aggressor, Hispanic, they would already have him serving a life sentence.”

7 comments

  1. jo

    If Ramirez had not run up behind teens, who were walking away after argument, and hit one in head, he would be alive, they would be going about thier business, and we would not have this discussion.

    What are the Latinos in the area afraid of? That they can’t sucker punch White Americans in the head?

  2. Jay

    Jo, don’t be stupid or ignorant. He was on the ground unconscious when they continued to beat him and kick in his skull. It was 6 football players, if they got hit they could have called the police, but why should they, they were drunk. Also, the investigating officers were related to the defendant, and refused to arrest so the state had too. Furthermore after one of the defendants was charged and awaiting trial, he wore a border patrol tee shirt to a halloween party. That same defendant went out that night with brass knuckles and bragged how he used them. Ok, let them off murder, I agree there was reasonable doubt. But, no aggravated assault or ethnic intimidation? A kid testified he started the whole thing with racial slurs. No one was an angel in this mess, but the boys had no right to kick his head in when he was on the ground unconscious. Oh and do not forget the police leaked information about the case to the defendants mother (his fiancee) and helped them all get a story together. The mexican was not a nice guy, but they had no right to kill him, and they didn’t know he was illegal or a bad guy when they killed him.

  3. Wrong. Once the illegal alien pedophile was on the ground, there was ONE kick. Then all of the boys tried to get away again, when Ramirez’s ‘friend’ showed up with a gun, waving it into the faces of those teen boys. Stop trying to protect the real criminal here — Ramirez himself.

  4. Eagle

    I am sure that one kick killed Ramirez. The crime is simply murder. If the justice system in the U.S was to go by Turtle’s reasoning, we would be killing criminals left and right. I’m sure it is justifiable to kill the black man who robbed the convenient store, or to murder the middle eastern man who looks like a criminal. It is justified as long as we keep our little sheltered community safe, right? Or maybe we should kill immigrants because they are themselves criminals. My point is that this guys are not justified in any way as much as Ramirez is not justified for his possible crime. But how could we have known if he wasn’t allowed the chance to appear in court. I’m sure he would have gotten at least 10 years sentence for pedophile charges. It simply is not fair that these people were charged only 1 year for murder!

  5. Cris

    It is amazing not only the sentence but also the racist comments of Jo and turtle. What else can we wait??? How the American justice allows a court full of white people who will never be able to understand the consequences of racial discrimination to be part of this case?? This is another probe that the justice system is not what the books say but no more than a cruel joke. If the kids involve in this case were blacks or Latinos they will be in jail for life no doubt…

  6. MJ

    This verdict is outrageous the facts seem pretty clear to me. The justice system really needs a kick in the ass when we start protecting murderers what message are we sending to people when we protect racism, and hatred.

    Should we all solve our problems with murder it is clear that in the eyes of the law it is ok. I feel really bad for Luis Ramirez family my thoughts and prayers go out to them. To the families of the boys whom committed this god awful crime, KARMA IS A BITCH

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