POTTSVILLE, Pa. – A teenager who punched an illegal Mexican immigrant who later died has cut a deal with federal prosecutors that could get him out of prison in four years.
Colin Walsh, 17, testified Tuesday against two teenage friends charged in connection with the fatal beating of 25-year-old Luis Ramirez. Prosecutors say a group of white football players, including Walsh and the teens on trial, shouted slurs at Ramirez as they punched and kicked him in the small eastern Pennsylvania coal town of Shenandoah last summer.
Defense attorneys say Ramirez, a factory worker and farmhand from Iramuco, Mexico, was the aggressor and deny their clients made any derogatory comments about his ethnicity.
Walsh had been charged in state court with third-degree murder and ethnic intimidation, but Schuylkill County District Attorney James Goodman dropped the charges earlier this month after Walsh pleaded guilty in federal court to violating Ramirez's civil rights.
On the witness stand, Walsh said his deal calls for nine years in federal prison, but that he could be out in four because of his cooperation in the trial of Brandon Piekarsky, 17, and Derrick Donchak, 19.
Piekarsky's attorney, Frederick Fanelli, seized on the deal as evidence that Walsh was out to save his own skin. "You are off the hook on these charges, scot-free, aren't you?" Fanelli said. "You're hoping to turn a (potential) life sentence into four years, right?"
"Hoping, yes," Walsh said.
Piekarsky, Donchak and Walsh were out drinking malt liquor with friends on the night of July 12 when they ran across Ramirez and his 15-year-old girlfriend near a park.
Another teen, Brian Scully, told the girl, "Isn't it a little late for you to be out?" That prompted Ramirez to yell something in Spanish, beginning a war of words that escalated into a full-scale brawl.
Scully, 18, who is charged in juvenile court with aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation, testified Tuesday that he shouted ethnic slurs at Ramirez and told him to "go back to Mexico." Scully said Piekarsky threw the first punch and that Donchak then entered the fray.
Later, Ramirez attacked Scully, prompting Walsh to run up to Ramirez and punch him in the face. Ramirez fell backward and hit his head on the macadam. Scully and Walsh said Piekarsky then kicked an unconscious Ramirez in the head.
"I was shocked," Walsh said. "I ran away. It wasn't really right what he did, to kick a man when he was down."
Despite his guilty plea, Walsh said he continues to feel his punch was justified because Ramirez had attacked his friend.
Before testimony began, President Judge William Baldwin told jurors they were forbidden to watch Wednesday night's episode of "Law & Order" because of similarities between the Ramirez case and the NBC show's plot, which focuses on a trio of high school basketball players charged with killing an illegal immigrant.
"I don't think it's an accident they're running it this week," he said.