Pa. Teens Cleared of Serious Charges in Beating

Michael Rubinkam, AP, May 2, 2009

An all-white jury on Friday acquitted two Pennsylvania teenagers of all serious charges against them stemming from the fatal beating of an illegal Mexican immigrant last summer.

Brandon Piekarsky, 17, was acquitted of third-degree murder and ethnic intimidation, while Derrick Donchak, 19, was acquitted of aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation. Both were convicted of simple assault.

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After four days of often conflicting testimony, jurors were left to sort out the facts of an epithet-filled brawl that pitted popular football players against a 25-year-old Hispanic man who appeared willing to fight.

Prosecutors cast Ramirez as the victim of a gang of drunken white teens motivated by their dislike of their small coal town’s burgeoning Hispanic population. But the jury evidently sided with defense attorneys who called Ramirez the aggressor and characterized the brawl as a street fight that ended tragically.

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The case exposed ethnic tensions in Shenandoah, a blue-collar town of 5,000 that has lured Hispanic residents drawn by cheap housing and jobs in nearby factories and farm fields. Ramirez moved to the town about seven years ago from Iramuco, Mexico, working in a factory and picking strawberries and cherries.

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The fight began late July 12 when a half-dozen teens, all Shenandoah residents who played football at Shenandoah Valley High School, were walking home from a block party and came across Ramirez and his 15-year-old girlfriend in a park.

Scully asked the girl, “Isn’t it a little late for you to be out?” That enraged Ramirez, who began yelling in Spanish and dialing friends on his cell phone. Scully admitted to shouting ethnic slurs. The verbal sparring soon turned into a physical altercation as Ramirez and Piekarsky traded blows, though prosecutors and defense attorneys disputed who threw the first punch.

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