MALDEF

VIDEO: CNN Discusses Shenandoah Murder with MALDEF

The video clip is only one part of the segment, for the full transcript, please see below.



CNN NEWSROOM - AUGUST 3, 2008


SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, a violent death in a small town is turning into a question of race and hate. It happened in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. The victim was a Mexican illegal immigrant whose girlfriend was a local white woman, and the suspects are three popular teenagers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROESGEN (voice-over): The police say it started as a chance encounter. A group of teenagers out drinking one night in July were heading back from a block party when they spotted Luis Ramirez walking down the street with the sister of his fiancee.

According to court documents, the young men challenged them saying, "isn't it a little late for you guys to be out" and "get your Mexican boyfriend out of here." Racial slurs, punches, Ramirez fell to the ground but he managed to call his friends, the Garcias, for help.

ARIELLE GARCIA, VICTIM'S FRIEND/WITNESS: My husband Victor tried to break up the fight between Luis and the kids, and people were trying to beat up my husband from trying to break it up.

ROESGEN: Court documents say Ramirez was knocked to the ground again and kicked in the head. A retired police woman, who lived nearby, heard the Garcias' cries to stop the beating. Then she says she heard the young men shout back at Mrs. Garcia.

EILEEN BURKE, WITNESS: They said, "you (EXPLETIVE) -- you tell your (EXPLETIVE) Mexican friends get the (EXPLETIVE) out of Shenandoah or you're going to be laying (EXPLETIVE) next to them.

ROESGEN: Witnesses say Ramirez was convulsing in the street.

CRYSTAL DILLMAN, VICTIM'S FIANCEE: Internally, he had a collapsed lung, he had two skull fractures, a blood clot on his brain and his brain swelled.

ROESGEN: The 25-year-old father of two and undocumented worker with two jobs had lived in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania for at least three years. He fell into a coma and died.

DILLMAN: His face swelled, afterwards his eyes actually swelled shut. They completely shut and you could see the bulging of his eyes. That's how bad the damage was on his eyes.

ROESGEN: Two of the suspects were good students and popular, too, on the high school football team -- 17-year-old Colin Walsh and 16-year-old Brandon Piekarsky. Both face charges of homicide as adults. 18-year-old Derrick Donchak is charged with aggravated assault, and all three are charged with ethnic intimidation, a hate crime.

MICHAEL WALSH, SUSPECT'S FATHER: My son was a great kid and fell into a bad situation or whatever became of it. I feel sorry for the families or anyone who cares for Mr. Ramirez.

DILLMAN: That's supposed to be the crown of thorns.

ROESGEN: The victim's fiancee showed CNN a religious charm Ramirez wore. She says an image of it was left imprinted on his chest after the beating. Crystal Dillman says for years she and Ramirez were harassed in the town in which she was born and raised.

DILLMAN: When me and him used to go to the store together, people would stare and say stuff under their breath. It's just the way they were.

ROESGEN: But attorneys for two of the teenagers say race may not have had anything to do with it. They say it was a drunken street fight that went too far and that racial taunts were heard on both sides.

ROGER LAGUNA, COLIN WALSH'S ATTORNEY: A scene of chaos. Many people on both sides. Not just Colin, for sure. But many, many folks on both sides engaged in a violent confrontation. And I think it's extremely important to take some time and to figure out whose responsible for what. This was not a pre-planned event. This was a random chance encounter. There was no target based upon race or anything like that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROESGEN: Now, Roger Laguna, the attorney for one of the teenagers Colin Walsh whom you just saw there in that report is with us tonight, and also the attorney for the Ramirez family, Gladys Lemon. She's the founder of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Now, Roger, your client allegedly beat a man to death while telling his girlfriend to get her Mexican boyfriend out of there. How is that not a hate crime? LAGUNA: Well, I don't think there's any allegations even been made that that was my client. As you saw in some of the other parts and if you look in the police report, see affidavit, there were quite a few people involved. And it's not even alleged that my client --

ROESGEN: Well, now, Roger, actually, Roger, the -- Donchak, the third boy who's only charged with aggravated assault, he has gone on the record. He says that that's what your client said.

LAGUNA: That my client said --

ROESGEN: Get your Mexican boyfriend out of here.

LAGUNA: Well, obviously, I wasn't there and I haven't heard what Mr. Donchak said. But...

ROESGEN: OK. Listen, let me ask --

LAGUNA: ...all I can respond to what you're telling me.

ROESGEN: Let me ask you something else, Roger. You said there that the racial slurs went both ways. If that's true, what kind of racial slur are you alleging that the victim said to your client and the other boys?

LAGUNA: Well, a lot of what was said was obscene, very obscene taunts.

ROESGEN: By whom?

LAGUNA: Well, by the victim, Mr. -- by the victim.

ROESGEN: The one who was kicked and beaten and left on the ground, right? Right. Let's pick up Gladys Limon here. Gladys, you represent the Ramirez family and Roger Laguna says the harassment went both ways. Did your client or his girlfriend say anything to provoke these teenagers?

GLADYS LIMON, RAMIREZ FAMILY'S ATTORNEY: Hello. And, yes, before I answer your question, first, I want to clarify a couple things that were said. I believe you said I was the founder of MALDEF. I'm the staff attorney with MALDEF. Our organization has been around for 40 years, long before I was born.

And also there have been four teenagers who have been charged with -- you know, in this crime -- the death of Mr. Ramirez after he was brutally beaten by these youth while they yelled racial insults at him.

ROESGEN: Well, Gladys, you know, Roger says, look, it was just some drunken teenagers. There was no premeditation. There was no intent. Some drunk kids got into a fight. If that's all it was, why would you really pursue this as a hate crime? It could have been just that, right?

LIMON: I understand that the defense attorney obviously will attempt to dismiss this and try to just sort of brush it under the rug and say that it was just a street fight. But what we do know is that the witnesses state that there were racial insults yelled before and after the fight, and at the end sending a strong message to the Latino community in Shenandoah, specifically, "tell your Mexican friends to get out of Shenandoah or they will be lying next to him."

ROESGEN: Yes. How widespread, how many reports of these sort of hate crimes, violent or otherwise, do you see now going against Mexican immigrants there in Shenandoah? The town has only about 5,000, some economic hard times. Is this becoming now an issue?

LIMON: Well, we know that in the last several years, there have been racial tensions in that town. That -- this is not an isolated incident. It's not isolated to Shenandoah.

We've seen an increase of hate crimes against Latinos across the United Sates of 35 percent. Not just again immigrants but also against long-time U.S. citizens, multi-generational U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents and not just against Mexicans. We have reports of Cubans, Ecuadorians, Salvadorians.

Anybody and everybody who looks Latino in this country is currently -- can be a victim of these hate crimes that we believe are the results of the anti-immigrant rhetoric that's completely out of control. It's loaded. It's inflammatory.

ROESGEN: Well, Gladys, yes, I know there's a lot of this going on. We're talking specifically about this case. Roger Laguna, again the attorney for Colin Walsh, we know that this is going to go to trial. Your client says he's innocent.

Gladys Limon, you say that this has been going on and this was a hate crime as you represent the Ramirez family. We'll be watching this case very closely. And I thank you both for joining us tonight.

LIMON: Thank you.

LAGUNA: Thank you.

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund