Civil Rights Groups Express Outrage; Defendants in Hate Crime Murder of Latino, Father of Two, Receive Six- and Seven-Month Sentences

June 17, 2009

SHENANDOAH, PA – Today, the Schuylkill County Court sentenced Brandon Piekarsky and Derrick Donchak to six and seven months in county jail on simple assault and alcohol-related convictions, respectively. Both defendants were acquitted of third-degree murder and aggravated assault, respectively, last month after a jury trial relating to their role in the fatal beating of Luis Ramirez, a 25-year-old Mexican immigrant and father of two. Despite the evidence of a hate-driven attack that resulted in the death of a human being, the defendants were convicted of minor crimes and the corresponding convictions and sentences are wholly disproportionate to the crimes committed.

Piekarsky was convicted of simple assault and underage drinking and was sentenced to six months and seven days in custody. Donchak was sentenced to serve six months in custody for the crime of simple assault and one additional month for the alcohol-related charges. Both are eligible for parole for up to 23 months total after serving these minimum sentences.

“Donchak and Piekarsky were not brought to justice for brutally and fatally beating Luis Ramirez,” said Gladys Limón, MALDEF Staff Attorney. “Luis’ life is irreplaceable, and the value of what the defendants took from Luis and his family is incalculable. The meager sentences handed to the defendants today leaves justice gasping for further redress. The failure to hold these defendants responsible for their atrocious crimes denies justice not just to the Ramirez family, but also to the entire community by failing to deter similar crimes in the future.”

Luis Ramirez died on July 14, 2008, two days after being brutally beaten by his attackers who yelled racial epithets before and during the beating. His family submitted written victim impact statements to the court to be considered in determining the defendants’ sentences. The statements, which describe the physical, psychological and economic effects of the defendants’ crimes on the Ramirez family, were also orally presented at the hearing.

Following the hearing, national civil rights leaders from Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center joined MALDEF in a national media call to call upon the Department of Justice to intervene and file federal hate crime charges against the defendants. MALDEF will also deliver over 50,000 petitions to Attorney General Eric Holder requesting that the Department of Justice bring federal hate crime charges against the assailants.

"The injustice faced by the family of Luis Ramirez is an outrage that goes beyond their small community. While FBI statistics show that hate crimes targeting Latinos have gone up 40 percent in the last five years, many more of these crimes go unreported because of fear of local authorities or further targeting," said Cynthia Valenzuela, MALDEF Director of Litigation. "Congress needs to pass the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Bill and get it to the President as quickly as possible. This legislation will help bring justice to cases like Luis' and provide a deterrent to those who think of turning their hateful ideologies into violent acts."

Given similar tragic crimes, including the recent shooting at the Holocaust museum in WashingtonD.C., the group called upon the U.S. Senate for a swift passage of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. The bill strengthens existing federal hate crime laws by authorizing the Department of Justice to assist local authorities in investigating and prosecuting certain bias-motivated crimes. The bill would also provide authority for the federal government to prosecute some violent bias-motivated crimes directed against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.

Richard Cohen, President and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) said, “Since the year 2000, we’ve seen a 50 percent surge in the number of hate groups across the country, to a record 926 by our latest count. The increase has been fueled by the same factor responsible for the rise in the anti-Latino hate crimes — a backlash against the changing demographics of our country — a backlash fueled by politicians trolling for votes and pundits looking for ratings.”

For all media inquiries, please contact Laura Rodriguez.

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund