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2 found guilty of hate crimes related to death of immigrant

By the CNN Wire Staff
Derrick M. Donchak and his co-defendant had previously been acquitted of murder charges in state court.
Derrick M. Donchak and his co-defendant had previously been acquitted of murder charges in state court.
  • Donchak and Piekarsky were acquitted on murder charges in state court
  • Witnesses testify that Luis Ramirez was kicked in the head
  • Defendants didn't like Ramirez living in their neighborhood

Scranton, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Two men on trial in a Pennsylvania federal court in connection with the beating death of an undocumented Mexican immigrant have been found guilty on all counts, including hate crimes.

Derrick M. Donchak, 20, of Shenandoah, and Brandon J. Piekarsky, 18, of Shenandoah Heights, had previously been acquitted of murder charges in state court and convicted of simple assault.

But Donchak and Piekarsky were charged in federal court with hate crimes and depriving Luis Ramirez of his civil rights. Donchak also was accused of trying to cover up the July 12, 2008, crime.

"Four people attacked one person because of his race and because they didn't want people like him living in their town," prosecutor Myesha K. Braden said during her closing argument.

Witnesses testified that racist language was used before and during the attack and that Ramirez was kicked in the head repeatedly after falling down. The defendants, they said, didn't want immigrants in their neighborhood and repeatedly ordered Ramirez to leave.

Regarding the cover up, Braden said, "They hatched a plan to leave out the kick, to leave out the race and even to leave out the drinking."

Video: Hate crime suspects guilty

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.

The all-white jury deliberated on the case for approximately six and a half hours before reaching a verdict. Both men face up to life in prison. Sentencing was set for January 24, and the judge denied a motion for bail, calling their crime "a crime of violence."

Donchak's head dropped as the verdict was read. His parents wept.

"We're going to be OK," said Piekarsky's mother, Tammy. "We will appeal."

Shenandoah police officer Jason Hayes, who was identified as Tammy Piekarsky's boyfriend at the trial, faces federal obstructing justice charges in the investigation, as do former Shenandoah Police Chief Matthew R. Nestor and police Lt. William Moyer.

Nestor, Moyer and Hayes are scheduled to go to trial in January. Nestor, who faces charges in an unrelated extortion case, has resigned.

U.S. District Judge Richard Caputo, who presided over the Donchak/Piekarsky trial in Scranton, is slated to preside over the officers' trials in Wilkes-Barre.

Crystal Dillman, the mother of Ramirez' two children, said she was "ecstatic" with the verdict.

"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," she said, "until it is proven that there was a conspiracy to stop justice."

Ramirez' mother, in Mexico, is "in shock but relieved and happy," Dillman said, but the couple's two children "are not past this."

"They are coming to grips with the fact that their father is dead," she said. "They don't understand where their father went and why he'll never come home. They will never comprehend this."

Donchak and Piekarsky were tried on state charges in May 2009 and convicted of simple assault and alcohol-related offenses. County Presiding Judge William E. Baldwin sentenced Donchak to six months and one week and Piekarsky to 23 months. Both are currently on parole.

A political outcry from Latino groups followed the state trial, and politicians, including Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, urged the federal government to pursue the case. Federal authorities convened a grand jury, which indicted the pair on December 10. Prosecutors announced the indictment five days later.

The Obama administration's top civil rights official praised Thursday's outcome.

"This jury's verdict demonstrates that violence aimed at preventing people from living in America because of their race, national origin, or ethnicity is intolerable," said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Department of Justice. "As this case illustrates, the Civil Rights Division will vigorously enforce the rights of every person who lives in this country to do so free of racially based violence and intimidation."

CNN's Rose Arce contributed to this report.