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The Race Issue in the Shenandoah Hate Crime Trial

By Gustavo Martinez Contreras
Posted on October 7, 2010

SCRANTON, PA — In opening statements today, defense attorneys said race is not an issue in the trial against two white Shenandoah, Pa., men charged with a federal hate crime after the beating death of a Mexican undocumented immigrant in 2008.

Both James Swetz and William Fetterhoff, who represent Brandon J. Piekarsky and Derrick M. Donchak, respectively, said the fatal beating was product of other factors rather than ethnic hatred.

“We’re talking about alcohol, youth and testosterone; those are the themes in this case. Not race, and certainly not federally guaranteed housing rights,” Mr. Swetz told the all-white jury.

Derrick M. Donchak leaves the US Court in Scranton on Oct. 6, 2010.

Fetterhoff also said that during the trial one of the witnesses will testify that on the night the beating took place the group of kids felt belligerent and open to fight anybody after each one of them drank three quarts of malt liquor.

“Colin Walsh told the FBI they were looking to get into a fight that night and would have fought any white, black or Hispanic male,” Mr. Fetterhoff said.

Derrick M. Donchak, 20, and Brandon J. Piekarsky, 18, face life in prison if found guilty of the federal hate crime charge stemming from the beating death of Luis Eduardo Ramírez Zavala in July 2008.

A Dec. 10, 2009, federal grand jury indictment indicates that Mr. Piekarsky and Mr. Donchak were among a group of six men who confronted Mr. Ramirez Zavala and began hitting and kicking him while members of the group yelled and screamed racial slurs, “Go back to Mexico,” and “Tell your (expletive) Mexican friends to get the (expletive) out of Shenandoah.”

And this latter phrase should be attributed to Mr. Piekarsky, said Assistant Attorney General Myesha Braden.

“That’s what he said as he planted his foot and kicked Mr. Ramírez in the head,” Ms. Braden said.

She also said that Mr. Piekarsky and other teens conspired to create a cover-up story in which they omitted the racial slurs, the lopsided nature of the fight and the fatal kick to Ramirez’ head.

Brandon J. Piekarsky leaves the Willian J. Nealon Federal Court in Scranton on May 6, 2010.

This is not the first time Mr. Donchak and Mr. Piekarsky go to court. Last year, an all-white Schuykill county jury acquitted them of racial intimidation charges.

The jury only found Mr. Piekarsky guilty of one count of simple assault, while Mr. Donchak was found guilty of one count of simple assault, three counts of corruption of minors and three counts of furnishing alcohol to minors.

Tomorrow will be the first day of testimony. Proceedings begin at 9 a.m.



Trial Audio English 003 by Gustavo Martinez

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