As hate crimes against Latinos escalate, the community seeks justice for its latest victim.
“He took one step and kicked him in the head,” said Walsh. “I was shocked. It wasn’t really right what he did, kick a man when he was down.”
The fourth teen, Brian Scully, also testified that Piekarsky kicked Ramirez in the head. A juvenile court judge sentenced Scully to up to 90 days.
Frederick Fanelli and Jeffrey Markosky, attorneys for Piekarsky and Donchack, respectively, painted the picture of an enraged Ramirez who wouldn’t stop fighting. The kids, they argued, acted in self-defense.
The all-white jury deliberated for almost eight hours on Friday. Just before midnight they came out to a courtroom of family and friends of the defendants. The jury found Donchak and Piekarsky not guilty of the most serious charges: criminal homicide, aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation.
As the verdict was read, Donchak and Piekarsky celebrated; their loved ones jumped and shrieked with joy. Donchak jumped off his chair and hugged Piekarsky. Officers had to prevent some members of the crowd from jumping the rope.
“Hey! This ain’t over yet,” a sheriff yelled.
But it was over.
The families joined in a series of emotional embraces that superseded the somber image of Gladys Limón darting out of the room escorted by a representative of Philadelphia’s Mexican Consulate.
The two disappeared behind a door for approximately 15 minutes, before Limón stoically addressed the press.
“I had to call Crystal Dillman and Luis’ mother to let them know that the people who murdered their son and partner were going to continue their lives uninterrupted,” she said. “They were shocked, obviously. They’re devastated.”
But the two defendants and their loved ones left the courthouse cheering and applauding the jury’s decision, which, according to one of the jurors, was pretty much agreed upon hours before it was made public.
“From 5 p.m. it was pretty much an 11 to 1. I was the one holding up and the rest had to convince,” juror foreman Eric Macklin said. “I believe all four boys are racist and I was pretty close to finding [Piekarsky and Donchak] guilty. But due to the evidence presented, I just couldn’t do it.”
The trial’s outcome outraged Latino leaders, who since the beginning claimed there were serious mistakes made in the prosecution of this crime.
“I’m completely disgusted and amazed at the jury’s improper, imprudent and deviant attitude toward this case,” says Rev. Miguel Rivera. “These individuals, all of them white, didn’t understand they had in their hands a civic and socially important case dealing with the life of a human being.”
Rivera, president of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders (CONLAMIC, in Spanish), says the trial should have been held somewhere else.
“The prosecution was totally inept, lacking professionalism, as the outcome of this trial showed us,” he says. “They should’ve presented a motion to hold the trial somewhere else because the nature of this corrupt county [Schuylkill County] aids to breed white supremacy sentiments there.”
The lack of justice, Rivera says, shows that even an animal has more rights than an immigrant. “Had they killed a dog, these kids would be already imprisoned. It’s amazing that a dog has more rights than an undocumented immigrant,” he adds.
Agapito Lopez, an activist from Hazleton, Pa., who has been very vocal in the quest for justice in this case, says the verdict sent an erroneous message and that Latinos in Shenandoah now live with fear.