"I am not a racist."
Those were the final words in court from Brandon Piekarsky, one of two Pennsylvania men who on Wednesday was sentenced to nine years in prison for the death of a Mexican immigrant they beat and kicked.
Derrick Donchak and Piekarsky were among a group of white high school football players in the small town of Shenandoah who attacked 25-year-old Luis Ramirez in 2008. Prosecutors alleged they beat and kicked Ramirez because they didn't like Hispanics and wanted them out of their town.
Ramírez was knocked unconscious and then kicked in the head as he fought with four drunken teenagers who were walking home from a block party late on July 12, 2008. Ramírez, a native of the small central Mexican town of Iramuco, died in a hospital of his injuries.
Piekarsky, now 18, and Donchak, now 20, were acquitted of state charges last year by an all-white jury. But October they were convicted of a federal hate crime. The jury also convicted Donchak of two other counts related to a plot to cover up the beating.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, the pair could have been sentenced to 12 to 15 years, but Judge Richard Caputo departed from the guidelines because of their personal character and conduct before Ramirez's beating, as well as the numerous letters and testimonials he received.
He noted that Ramirez's death and the actions of the pair were not to be disregarded.
"The jury found that Mr. Ramirez died as a result of his ethnicity or race," Caputo said. "This is serious business in America."
Piekarsky, in a statement to the court, expressed remorse for what happened and offered his condolences to Ramirez's family but said, "It was not racial. I am not a racist."
Donchak chose not to make a statement to the court.
A federal jury in Pennsylvania dropped cover up charges against three former city cops accused of trying to hinder the FBI investigation, two were convicted of lesser charges, but the former police chief of the town could still face decades in prison.
Jurors rejected most of the government’s case that it was a cover-up, clearing all three of conspiracy to obstruct the federal investigation. Nestor was found guilty of falsifying his police report, a charge that carries up to 20 years in prison, and another officer was found guilty of lying to the FBI.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.