As the jury deliberates on the fates of Brandon Piekarsky and Derrick Donchak I have been thinking over the trial that I have watched over the past week, the evidence and the charges against the two. Here is my opinion on the charges.
During testimony of the case you must reach, beyond a reasonable doubt, that both defendants were guilty of a charge.
(Shenandoah Teen Trial Coverage: Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, My Verdict, Verdict is in!, Shenandoah Rally and Archive)
Let's take the "easy" ones first.
Hindering the Prosecution
Both Donchak and Piekarsky are charges with criminal solicitation/hindering apprehension or prosecution.
There was compelling testimony on this from the prosecution witnesses and the defense did not refute it. I find enough evidence in the testimony that all the boys tried to fix their story and hinder the prosecution in the case. I would decide on guilty for both on the charges of hindering prosecution.
Donchak faces corruption of minors, purchase or consumption of alcohol by a minor and selling or furnishing alcohol to minors. Piekarsky faces purchase, consumption, possession or transportation of liquor. Once again there were no refutations of the testimony by prosecution witnesses. Brian Scully testified that he was drinking at the creek with a group including Piekarsky, Walsh, Donchak and Lawson and that Donchak delivered the alcohol. All those at the scene claim that there was drinking and Donchak supplied a 12 pack of malt liquor.
With that testimony, my decision would be guilty on the alcohol charges.
The only one who made any sort of slur that could be construed as racial in nature is Brian Scully according to most testimony. Josh Redmond alone attributes racial slurs to Scully, Donchak and Walsh. I would argue that this type of charge is a "garbage charge" in that it falls under free speech in this country. Testimony states that Ramirez attacked after being called names by Scully and him yelling "Go back to Mexico". In this day and age defending your violent attack on someone because they called you a name is simply ridiculous.
It was also ridiculous that Piekarsky and Donchak were charges with this so called "ethnic intimidation" when there was no general consensus of testimony that either of them were found to have said anything racial in nature. The prosecutions assertion during closing arguments that "they acted as a group -- the accomplices' actions confirmed words" stated by Scully is ridiculous. You have to prove something not assume.
Assistant D.A. Franz also said in his closing arguments of Piekarsky on hearing the slurs that "he was not affronted, he didn't run away...he ran to Luis Ramirez and started beating him." This is disputed as Roxanne Rector, a prosecution witness, said that Ramirez had taken off his shirt and jewelry prior to the fight. This tells me that Ramirez wasn't just called some racist names and then jumped, but was actively preparing for the fight.
I would find both Piekarsky and Donchak on the "ethnic intimidation" charges as not guilty.
Both Piekarsky and Donchak face Aggravated Assault charges.
Aggravated Assault is defined as:
(1) attempts to cause serious bodily injury to another, or causes such injury intentionally, knowingly or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.
The question in this case is whether either of the defendants acted in self defense and if whether their actions were intent with malice and indifference to human life. I read this as meaning did they intentionally beat Ramirez with intent to do permanent damage and intent to possibly kill.
This is a hard one for me to decide on as the actual definition is fluid and you must determine if the defendants at the time cared about human life. However it is the burden of the prosecution to prove this.
The death of Ramirez does not factor into the aggravated assault charge, just the fighting and intent of that fighting.
From testimony there are conflicting statements on who started the fight. However, Josh Redmond stated in testimony that Ramirez threw the first punch. Paraphrased from testimony: "Piekarsky led the pack. Ramirez threw the first punch, missed, and was tackled by Piekarsky." Also from the actions of Ramirez - according to Ramirez' girlfriend Roxanne Rector - Ramirez voluntarily prepared for the fight and entered into it. Donchak jumped in and started punching after Ramirez was down.
According to testimony, after the first portion of the fighting, Scully walked away and continued yelling at Ramirez. Ramirez then attacked and "sucker punched" Scully in the back of the head thus inciting more fighting rather than walking away. This would suggest that words in the first portion of fighting incited Ramirez to attack first as well.
The only self defense argument I could give is to Piekarsky and it is incumbent upon the prosecution that they prove his intent, not that Piekarsky disprove their allegations. Innocent until proven guilty.
Therefore I find Piekarsky not guilty of aggravated assault.
As for Donchak who jumped in and started punching after Ramirez was down, the prosecution still has to go to the lengths of proving that his intent in doing so was "indifference to human life". I honestly cannot say that reading over the testimony that the prosecution proved this to be true. A lot of the testimony focused on the kick of Piekarsky and not the intent of the actions in the fight.
Therefore I have to rule not guilty on the aggravated assault charges for both Piekarsky and Donchak. I do have to state then when first thinking on these charges without knowing the definition of aggravated assault, my initial urge was towards guilty on these charges. However the evidence and testimony as presented by the prosecution did not meet the "extreme indifference to the value of human life." portion of the definition. Intent to hurt? Yes. Intent to have no value to human life? No proof.
Both Piekarsky and Donchak face Simple Assault charges.
The definitions of Simple Assault that apply in this case are:
(1) attempts to cause or intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causes bodily injury to another;
(3) attempts by physical menace to put another in fear of imminent serious bodily injury;
And the grading of the crime:
Simple assault is a misdemeanor of the second degree unless committed:
(1) in a fight or scuffle entered into by mutual consent, in which case it is a misdemeanor of the third degree;
As above in my Aggravated Assault entry, I feel that the prosecution did not prove a case that Piekarsky assaulted Ramirez, except in self defense. Also there was no statements as to Piekarsky doing anything except as from Colin Walsh regarding the kick to the head as you will see in my portion on the third degree murder charges.
There has to be proof
Statements on Donchak jumping in and punching Ramirez while he was down are clear assault. And therefore I find Donchak guilty on the Simple Assault charges.
Rector: no Piekarsky evidence.
Ben Lawson: Piekarsky said he kicked Ramirez
Brian Scully: Piekarsky said he kicked Ramirez
Colin Walsh: Me, Piekarsky, Donchak and Scully kicked the fallen Ramirez.
Garcia: I knew Piekarsky by sight, not by name, and do not recall seeing him there.
Garcia: I saw multiple feet stomping the fallen Ramirez.
Cross testimony disputes Piekarsky kicking him however and that the witnesses were trying to save their own skins. All evidence was hearsay.
Piekarsky Not Guilty on assault.
Recklessly Endangering Another Person
Both Piekarsky and Donchak face charges of recklessly endangering another person.
Description: A person commits a misdemeanor of the second degree if he recklessly engages in conduct which places or may place another person in danger of death or serious bodily injury.
At this point with the testimony I do find Piekarsky not guilty of this charge.
Donchak guilty as above with Simple Assault
Brandon Piekarsky faces third degree murder charges. During testimony of the case you must reach, beyond a reasonable doubt that two things are true. That Piekarsky was indeed the kicker and that the kick caused the death of Luis Ramirez.
Did the kick cause Ramirez death?
First let's take whether the kick actually caused Luis Ramirez' death. While forensic pathologist Barbara Bollinger, who provided the autopsy, testified that the death would be ruled a homicide, I agree with the defense that Bollinger is a paid consultant of the prosecution. So her word must be looked at in that light.
Bollinger testified that there were skull fractures to the left and back sides, and a displaced bone. The skull fracture to the back of the head is expected as nobody refutes that Ramirez struck his skull after being punched by Colin Walsh. Neuropathologist Dr. Daniel Brown testified that an injury to the back of the brain caused an injury to the front - injuries consistent with a moving head hitting a stationary object. This would confirm what prosecution witness Victor Garcia testified too that he didn't see Ramirez hit the ground, but certainly heard it. "I didn't see Ramirez hit the ground-- all I heard was a 'boom' on the ground."
Brown also testified that the left side of his brain had extensive contusions and swelling, but no evidence of trauma to the right side of his brain. Why no evidence of trauma to the right side of his brain if such a serious blow was inflicted on the left side of Ramirez' head? Geisinger Medical records said Ramirez's left skull was opened to relieve pressure from accumulating blood.
Now not having seen the actual reports I cannot come to an absolute conclusion, but it leaves in doubt whether Ramirez' death was caused by a kick or the blow to the back of his head which was so traumatic that it caused brain trauma to the front of his brain.
Who kicked Ramirez?
Second, as to who kicked Ramirez. None of the shoes of any of the teens were confiscated at the scene to check for signs of blood, which surely would be present with such a vicious kick to someone's head. On top of this, testimony in the case could not state for sure that Piekarsky was the kicker. Arielle Garcia's testimony that she believes she saw white shoes kick Ramirez is not proof, but both Walsh and Scully testified that Scully's shoes were white. Scully says that Piekarsky's shoes were blue and gray and Walsh said that Piekarsky's shoes were gray.
Scully said that he attempted to kick Ramirez and missed, but Piekarsky did kick him. The defense cross of that statement was compelling where Scully said that he played four or five sports was one of the best players, yet he missed kicking a motionless target.
Walsh stated outright that Piekarsky kicked Ramirez and that he was standing right next to him. I consider Walsh a tainted witness though as he took a plea agreement in order to avoid being charged. Officer Michele Ashman, of the Frackville police in her testimony said she was on-scene and saw Officer Hayes interview Arielle Garcia, and she identified Scully as the kicker, not Piekarsky.
With all of this testimony, lack of real evidence, admissions of drinking, I can't say for certain who kicked Ramirez and whether the kick caused his death, therefore with reasonable doubt I would not convict Piekarsky on the third degree homicide charge.
This is all my personal opinion based on testimony I have studied and the evidence. I am sure that if the jury also looks at things these way they will come to the same conclusion. However, they may have learned more than I have or interpreted things differently.
(Shenandoah Teen Trial Coverage: Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, My Verdict, Verdict is in!, Shenandoah Rally and Archive)