The witness with the strongest testimony today in the trial of two Shenandoah, Pa., men charged with a federal hate crime, was also the witness that opened the door to a bizarre and irrelevant event that could probably bring a serious setback to prosecutors in the case.
Derrick M. Donchak, 20, and Brandon J. Piekarsky, 18, face life in prison if found guilty of the charges stemming from the beating death of 25-year-old Luis Eduardo Ramírez Zavala, an undocumented immigrant.
“Donchak told me we shouldn’t do anything (in retaliation of the attack) because they were going to start a civil war in Shenandoah,” Mr. Gomez said. “We have friends with powerful weapons.”
The defendants sat listening to Mr. Gómez who took the stand to testify specifically against Mr. Donchak.
He and Mr. Gómez, 20, attend Bloomsburg University, where the threat was supposedly made.
That seemed to be a good piece of testimony hanging over Mr. Donchak, who for the past week has been portrayed as a singing racist with deep hatred toward Shenandoah Latinos.
But when the prosecution dug deeper into a violent confrontation that took place on March 2008, their witness started in with his bizarre tale.
The witness said that he was driving his Ford Equinox with friend Rafael Fuentes heading to a pizzeria in Shenandoah.
“I saw this kid running in front of me as the light was changing from red to green,” Mr. Gomez said. “Then I saw this crowd getting together and they started screaming once they saw me.”
He said a crowd of about 20 people yelled at them things like “go back to Mexico”, “scumbag Mexican” and “wetback”.
Then, he said, kids from that mob started punching and pulling his friend out of the car.
“Donchak was hitting my car. He had a metal stick and just beat everything by my window,” he said. “I had a baseball bat. I got out of the car and started to chase them off.”
The only problem was that accounts of the story from various individuals that participated in the confrontation said that Mr. Donchak was not present and that Mr. Gomez never came out of his car with that baseball bat.
Rather, witnesses said that after the confrontation a group of older Latinos showed up with bats and beat kids and cars alike.
Joshua Redmon, 19, testified that he had spent the entire day with Mr. Donchak and that they arrived at the area when the Latinos holding the bats were leaving the scene.
Also, Mr. Redmond testified that he heard Mr. Donchak yell a slur at Ramirez at the beginning of the confrontation. But he said he didn’t hear Mr. Piekarsky address Mr. Ramirez Zavala by any racist terms.
Proceedings resume tomorrow at 9 a.m. and they are expected to end early, since judge Richard A. Caputo said he expected to give a lengthy recess after a few testimonies in the morning.