Skip to comments.Shenandoah murder trial: JURY’S VERDICT: SIMPLE ASSAULT
Posted on 05/02/2009 7:24:19 AM PDT by csvset
It took seven hours and 40 minutes.
Following an evening-long deliberation Friday, a Schuylkill County jury reached its verdict in the trial of two Shenandoah teens charged in the beating death of Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala, 25. Watch reaction video
Brandon J. Piekarsky, 17, of Shenandoah Heights, was found guilty of one count of simple assault and acquitted of all other charges in-cluding third-degree murder and aggravated assault.
Derrick M. Donchak, 19, was found guilty of one count of simple assault. He was also found guilty of three counts of corruption of minors and three counts of furnishing alcohol to minors. He was acquitted of all other charges, the most serious of which were two counts of aggravated assault.
The ethnically charged case also included ethnic intimidation charges of which the jury found the teens not guilty in the murder of the Mexican immigrant.
Both teens remain free on bail until they are sentenced. Schuylkill President Judge William E. Baldwin, who presided over the trial, ordered a pre-sentencing investigation, which could take weeks to conclude, after which he will sentence Piekarsky and Donchak.
Both teens face a possible one- to two-year sentence on simple assault, which is a second-degree misdemeanor. Donchak also faces a maximum sentence of 2� to five years on each of the three corruption of minors, which are first-degree misdemeanors.
Donchak also faces a maximum sentence of six to 12 months on each of the selling or furnishing liquor charges.
Each not guilty verdict was greeted with a chorus of gasps from the audience of about 50 members of the press and public. The room erupted in cheers after all verdicts were read and the deputy sheriffs had to restrain members of the defendants families from rushing to them until after the jury had been dismissed.
While the verdicts were read, Tammy Piekarsky, Piekarskys mother, was crying. Donchak had wet eyes and Piekarsky appeared jubilant.
After the verdicts were read, the defendants hugged.
The jury has rendered its verdict. They deliberated a long time and we respect its verdict and we have no further comment, Schuylkill County District Attorney James P. Goodman said.
The jury has spoken. Were deeply gratified with the verdict, Frederick J. Fanelli, Piekarskys lawyer, said. Its been a long, grueling trial.
Its a good day for the Donchack family, Jeffrey M. Markosky, Donchaks lawyer, said. I believe they saw the case as it really was.
Attorneys with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund were outraged by what Staff Attorney Gladys Limon called a disgusting, shameful verdict.
Todays verdict demonstrated a complete failure of the justice system, she said 15 minutes after the verdict was handed down. The acts they (Piekarsky and Donchak) engaged in were violent and unjustified.
Limon said she was in contact with Ramirezs parents at home in Mexico and Crystal Dillman, Ramirezs fiancee, immediately afterward.
Theyre devastated, Limon said. The people who murdered (Luis) are going to continue their lives uninterrupted.
Limon said MALDEF will push U.S. Attorney Martin C. Carlson to file federal charges against Piekarsky and Donchak.
I only hope that Luis death will not be in vain.
The message the verdict delivers, Limon said, is You can kill a person ... and you can continue your life.
Later, 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.
The teens were charged for their role in the July 12 beating of Ramirez, who died at Geisinger Medical Center, Danville, on July 14, 2008, from injuries suffered in the incident two days earlier.
The five-day trial, which began at 9 a.m. Monday, has drawn international attention because of the racial issues it raised. The prosecution, presented by Goodman and assistant district attorneys Robert P. Frantz and A.J. Serina, rested its case Wednesday after three days of testimony from witnesses of the incident, police and medical experts. The defense team shocked the audience Thursday morning when it rested its case after calling only four witnesses, including two police officers and two witnesses.
After hearing closing statements from both sides Friday morning and taking a lunch recess, Baldwin began instructing the jury at 1:10 p.m.
The all-white jury of six men and six women began deliberating about 3 p.m. Friday.
Jurors came back about 4:10 p.m. asking Baldwin to define three of the charges: ethnic intimidation, corruption of minors and recklessly endangering another person. Baldwin took about 10 minutes to do so and returned the jury to the deliberation room.
The jury ate dinner about 6:30 p.m. and resumed considering whether prosecutors proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Piekarsky, 17, of Shenandoah Heights, and Donchak, 19, of Shenandoah, were guilty of assaulting, and in Piekarskys case killing, Ramirez.
Shortly after 10 p.m., the jury once again asked Baldwin to explain reckless endangerment to them. Then, at 10:25 p.m., the jury again asked about ethnic intimidation.
The jury reached a verdict about 10:40 p.m.
After the trial, jury Foreman Eric Macklin, Schuylkill Haven, explained his vote.
I think its horrible what happened to Luis Ramirez, he said. My fellow jurors agree. I personally was very close to finding them both guilty on every serious count but I was not sure beyond a reasonable doubt.
I despise racism in every form.
Piekarsky was charged with criminal homicide, aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person, simple assault, ethnic intimidation, criminal solicitation/hindering apprehension or prosecution and purchase, consumption, possession or transportation of liquor. Third-degree murder, with a possible maximum sentence of 20 to 40 years in a state correctional institution, is the most serious degree of homicide Piekarsky faced.
Donchak, was charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, ethnic intimidation, corruption of minors, purchase or consumption of alcohol by a minor and selling or furnishing alcohol to minors. The most serious sentence he faced was 10 to 20 years in a state correctional institution for aggravated assault.
The two were among six teens that the prosecution said were involved in the beating incident which was racially motivated.
According to a criminal complaint, the juveniles drank beer and malt liquor in the woods and attended block party before encountering Ramirez and a 15-year-old female at the intersection of Vine and Lloyd streets, Shenandoah, at 11:15 or 11:30 p.m. July 12.
The six teenagers allegedly began making comments toward Ramirez, which led to verbal responses from Ramirez and eventually fighting between him and some of the teens.
During the fight, according to the criminal complaint, Walsh punched Ramirez in the face and caused him to fall and strike his head on the roadway, after which Piekarsky kicked him in the side of his head.
All Schuylkill County charges against Walsh, which included one count of criminal homicide, were formally dropped on April 17 because Walsh entered a guilty plea in federal court to charges under the Fair Housing Act. Those court documents have been sealed. Walsh testified against Donchak and Piekarsky on Tuesday.
Medical experts testified Wednesday that Ramirez died from two severe head injuries.
The defense had argued that the incident was a street fight gone bad, that Ramirez was an aggressor who called several friends to the fight, one of whom had a gun, and that there was reasonable doubt about whether it was Piekarsky or Brian Scully, 18, who is facing charges in juvenile court, who kicked Ramirez in the head. The defense attacked the credibility of Walsh and Scullys testimony saying they were cooperating with the prosecution to protect themselves.
He was beaten badly. His skull was fractured in two spots, Frantz said in Friday mornings closing arguments in a packed courtroom.
The defense argued the boys did nothing wrong and prosecutors rushed to judgment without fully considering the evidence.
Is it fair to these kids who are on trial for their lives? Frederick J. Fanelli, Pottsville, Piekarskys lawyer, asked of investigators not showing evidence to an eyewitness.
Markosky said prosecutors had not proved any hatred was involved.
This was a fight that developed spontaneously, Markosky said. There is an absolute lack of evidence that Mr. Donchaks actions were caused by racial hatred.
In asking that his client be acquitted, Markosky said the case comes down to witness credibility and that neither Brian Scully nor Colin J. Walsh, two other teenagers charged in connection with the fight, were credible.
His job is to make sure others take the punishment Markosky said of Scully, 18, of Shenandoah, who is facing juvenile charges in the case. Hes protecting himself. Hes the one whos a racist.
He discounted the prosecutions production of a photograph of Donchack wearing a U.S. Border Patrol T-shirt at a Halloween party.
A T-shirt is not an expression of what your inner beliefs are, he said.
Fanelli said the government admits the lack of credibility of Scully and Walsh by leaving charges open against Scully and not yet setting the sentence against Walsh.
If (the government) believed Walsh and Scully, they wouldnt hold these things hanging over their heads, he said.
He took particular issue with prosecutors handling of the issue of Scullys shoes.
Arielle Garcia, a friend of Ramirez who was at the scene of the beating, said she believed the person who kicked Ramirez had white and blue shoes, while other testimony had Piekarsky wearing gray shoes. Investigators did not show Scullys shoes to Garcia, and Fanelli said that showed their bias.
This prosecution has run from the truth, he said. She identified the kicker, the footwear.
Not only that, Fanelli said, but when Garcia said You killed him to Scully, he did not deny it, instead saying Ramirez was still breathing.
That is called consciousness of guilt, Fanelli said.
Ramirez also was not entirely innocent, continuing to fight voluntarily when the boys started to walk away, according to Fanelli.
Ramirez was planning for battle, he said.
All that adds up to reasonable doubt and mandates acquittal of Piekarsky, Fanelli said.
Im asking you to find him not guilty. Thank you very much, Fanelli said.
Frantz argued that the prosecution did not rush to judgment, instead making careful choices about whom to charge and with what.
He did not deny some of his witnesses gave inconsistent statements, but attributed that to the desire to protect their friends and teammates in football and other sports at Shenandoah Valley High School.
Team bonding runs deep, Frantz said.
However, the defense says Scully, Walsh and Joseph Benjamin Lawson, another teenager who was at the scene of the beating, are now are testifying truthfully, and Scully and Walsh have accepted responsibility for what they did.
Lawson, who has not been charged, knew what occurred and pointed the finger at Donchack and Piekarsky, Frantz said.
He witnessed it and deep inside, you know that, Frantz said.
Garcia should not sway the jurors against a guilty verdict, he said.
Much has been made of Arielle Garcia. Theyre trying to create doubt. She was unsure of almost everything, Frantz said.
In an unusual move, Frantz said the two police officers who testified they heard Garcia say Scully kicked Ramirez, Robert M. Senape of West Mahanoy Township and Michelle Ashman of Frackville, were not telling the truth.
He said Piekarsky was the one who showed a guilty conscience when he returned to the scene with Shenandoah police officer Jason Hayes his mothers boyfriend. Furthermore, when Piekarsky learned Ramirez was in bad shape, he immediately called his friends to try to start a cover up of the affair.
He started the lies, Frantz said. Thats self-preservation.
That's not murder? Very serious battery if you ask me -- but it's just my opinion.
Sounds like one group of thugs got in a fight with another group of thugs and one thug didn’t get up.
I’d hate to think that one of my sons could be spontaneously beaten to death and the perps could get off scott free.
A US Border Patrol T-shirt? That’s a hanging offense in Mass., ain’t it?
The feds will try them now. Hate crimes.
If one of my sons decide to cross the Mexican border, legally or illegally, I will tell him he's on his own
No, I'm not justifying murder, but the jury found them not guilty of that and their opinion is the only one that counts.
If the situation were reversed, how would a Mexican jury decide?
Yep,double jeopardy is quite common when whites are acquitted of killing minorities.
Hey, in California, Damian “Football” Williams, hit Reginald Denny in the head with a brick. He wasn’t found guilty of attempted murder either.
Sobriety set aside, I'd think that self preservation would prevent me from trying to fist fight a group of yutes.
What the... Lol.
“Where is your old man right now?”
“He said he was in the lobby!”
You mean like OJ?
This goes a little ways towards expelling the perception that Ramirez was simply a hard working, quiet, shiny eyed, "immigrant" on his way home from a long night of washing dishes.
Sounds to me like one of the Latin Kings got caught without his homies.
Ramirez was a criminal alien involved in statutory rape of minors, among other things. P>Good riddance to bad rubbish, though I would have preferred that Border Patrol/INS had simply done their job and deported him.
Perhaps this article would prove useful: http://guanabee.com/2009/04/trial-begins-luis-ramirez
Quote: "To complicate matters, the alleged girlfriend is the 15 year old half-sister of Ramirezs fiancee and mother of his two kids, Crystal Dillman. The younger half-sister confirmed in court that she did have a sexual relationship with Ramirez. Eeesh."
So the guy has two kids from a woman around his age, then sleeps with the younger half-sister, who is under the age of consent (thus, statutory rape as I said).
I'm just saying.