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Third Circuit Affirms Piekarsky, Donchak Hate Crime Convictions

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on June 19, 2012 1:05 PM

Friends in high places can help at the local level but don't try to play that card in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals when you've committed a federal hate crime.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court decision on Monday in a case involving the beating death of an illegal Mexican immigrant.

The defendants, Brandon Piekarsky and Derrick Donchak, were tried and convicted of a federal hate crime under the Fair Housing Act. These same defendants were actually acquitted under state court for the fatal beating. According to the Third Circuit's narrative of the case, the defendants also pulled some strings at the local level to cover up the crime.

The federal court system, however, slapped a 9-year prison term on these offenders.

The two defendants were merely 18 and 20 when they beat and kicked Luis Ramirez to death. According to testimony presented at the trial, the boys had a history of showing a bias against Hispanics. In fact, one of the defendants used to drive through town blasting a white supremacist anthem glorifying the use of violence against minorities.

On trial, the federal prosecutors raised the argument that Donchak and Piekarsky had racial motivations for beating Ramirez.

The case got pretty ugly when the prosecutors were able to have the former Shenandoah police chief convicted for trying to cover up the defendants' attack, reports The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The pair raised the issue that the District Court gave the wrong jury instructions on the Government's burden of proof. They also raised the double jeopardy issue in addition to typical evidentiary issues, (i.e. that there was insufficient evidence to support a conviction).

These arguments were thrown out by the appeals court.

The most interesting of the defendants' arguments came down to whether or not an illegal immigrant had the right to protection under the FHA. The Third Circuit focused on the distinction in the language of two parts of Section 3631-- one section which mentioned any "person" and the other, which specified "citizen." The fact that the statute made that distinction showed that any "person" was intended to mean exactly that-- any person-- and not limited to citizens.

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