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Luis Ramirez Hate Crime Update: Judge Hands Down 9-year Sentence

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luis martinezJustice was finally delivered in the case of a Shenandoah, Pennsylvania hate crime yesterday, when two men were sentenced to nine years in prison for beating an undocumented immigrant to death in 2008.

Derrick Donchak and Brandon Piekarsky were two white high school football players who attacked Luis Ramirez, beating and kicking him to death while yelling racial slurs and telling their victim, “This is Shenandoah. This is America. Go back to Mexico.”

The two were convicted of a federal hate crime in October and could have received more than 15 years in prison, but their sentence was reduced by Judge Richard Caputo on the basis of “personal character.” 

The sentencing does, at least, bring a measure of closure to a fraught case.  When Donchak and Piekarsky were originally tried in 2009, an all-white jury saw fit to let them off, acquitting Piekarsky of third-degree murder, prompting furious activity by the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund (MALDEF) to have the case retried as a federal hate crime.

In addition, earlier this year a federal jury found three local policemen guilty of hindering the Martinez investigation, filing false police reports, lying to the FBI, and obstructing justice.

According to one New York Times article, the source of the racial tension believed to have led to the Shenandoah attack traces back to 2006, when the nearby town of Hazleton passed a law discouraging residents to hire or rent to undocumented immigrants.  Though the law did not make it to Shenandoah itself, the debate is thought to have inflamed the local environment–not unlike more recent cases involving pundits making a living off racist vitriol and political candidates running race-baiting campaigns.  It is no wonder that hate crimes against Latinos rose 40% between 2003 and 2008, claiming even children among their victims.

Even once Donchak and Piekarsky report to prison–if they do, as defense attorneys say they will appeal the verdicts and sentences–they are unlikely to be exposed to any kind of environment that will teach them more tolerant ways.  As Latina Lista points out:

More than a few white supremacy groups got their start in prisons and its reported that 10 percent of all prisoners in U.S. prisons belong to a gang.

While yesterday’s sentencing is clearly a step toward justice, it is clear that so much more needs to be done to address the racial hatred tolerated in broad swaths of our community, where the lives of immigrants and minorities are so often abused with impunity.