Teen Accuses Friends In Immigrant Slay

Brandon Piekarsky is escorted into the Schuylkill County Courthouse in Pottsville, Pa., Monday, Aug. 18, 2008.
AP Photo/Matt Rourke
A teenager testified Monday that two friends charged in the beating death of a Mexican illegal immigrant in a small Pennsylvania town punched and kicked the victim during a late-night, epithet-filled melee, then plotted to lie about it a day later.

A judge must decide if there is enough evidence against the pair and a third suspect to send the case to trial. Last month's death of Luis Ramirez has raised racial tensions in the town of Shenandoah, about 80 miles northwest of Philadelphia, and yelling from protesters outside the courthouse forced a brief delay of Monday's preliminary hearing.

The teenage, Ben Lawson, 17, testified that Ramirez was fighting with one of the suspects, Derrick M. Donchak, when another, Colin Walsh, sucker-punched the victim, and that a third, Brandon Piekarsky then kicked Ramirez in the head while he lay motionless in the street.

Walsh, 17, and Piekarsky, 16, were charged as adults with homicide and ethnic intimidation. Donchak, 18, was charged with aggravated assault, ethnic intimidation and other offenses. All were football players at Shenandoah Valley High School.

Lawyers for Piekarsky and Walsh have said there is no evidence to support the homicide charges.

Testifying in a low, mumbly voice, Lawson said he had been drinking malt liquor in the woods with Walsh, Piekarsky, Donchak and other friends a few hours before the July 12 attack. He said he drank two 40-ounce bottles and was intoxicated.

Lawson said the group encountered Ramirez, 25, and a teenage girl in a park. He said another teen, Brian Scully, goaded the girl, saying, "Isn't it a little late for you to be out?"

When Ramirez replied in a threatening manner in Spanish, Scully began yelling racial slurs at Ramirez and a fight ensued, Lawson said.

He said Ramirez was fighting with Donchak when Walsh ran up and punched him in the face. Ramirez fell to the ground and hit his head on the macadam, leaving him unconscious, after which Piekarsky kicked him in the head, Lawson said.

The following day, he said, the group met at Piekarsky's house and hatched a plan to lie to police about what happened.

"We made up a plan that we we're going to tell the cops that nobody kicked him, that there were no racial slurs, there was no booze, and Brian got hit first," Lawson said.

Under cross-examination, Lawson said he had been pressured by FBI agents to recant an initial, incomplete statement he gave to police in favor of a later statement.

As the hearing got under way in Pottsville, about 10 miles south of Shenandoah, about 40 protesters outside the courthouse began yelling, prompting a defense attorney to complain about the distraction. The protesters, from workers' and immigrants' rights groups, were ordered to keep quiet or they'd be forced to move. The hearing was recessed for several minutes until the protesters quieted down.

Ramirez, who entered the U.S. illegally about six years ago, worked in a factory and picked strawberries and cherries. The victim's 24-year-old fiancee, who is white and grew up in Shenandoah, has said Ramirez was often called derogatory names and told to return to his homeland. The couple had two children together.

A group of girls that spoke to CBS News said they were shocked at the accused, "because they are nice boys."

"That's what I really don't understand," said one girl. "When I heard about it I was really surprised. I couldn't believe it was them."

About a month after Ramirez's murder, some people aren't allowed to talk and others are still too frightened to, reported CBS News correspondent Seth Doane. So trying to get a clear picture of what's really happening in Shenandoah isn't easy.