(CBS/AP) WILKES-BARRE, Pa. - Derrick Donchak and Brandon Piekarsky, two men convicted in October of a federal hate crime for beating and kicking an illegal Mexican immigrant to death, were sentenced Wednesday to nine years in prison.
The two were part of a group of white high school football players in the small town of Shenandoah who attacked and killed 25-year-old Luis Ramirez.
Justice Department prosecutor Myesha Braden said in court Wednesday that while Donchak, now 21, and Piekarsky, now 19, did not intend to kill Ramirez, they decided his Hispanic ethnicity made him "somehow worthy of being beaten like a dog in the streets."
Both men could have received 12 to 15 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines, but were spared by U.S. District Judge Richard Caputo who took into consideration their conduct prior to the fatal incident, as well as numerous letters and testimonials he received.
"The jury found that Mr. Ramirez died as a result of his ethnicity or race," Caputo said. "This is serious business in America."
In a statement to the court, Piekarshy expressed his remorse and offered condolences to the victim's family, but said "it was not racial. I am not a racist."
Donchak chose not to make a statement to the court.
Witnesses at their trial gave conflicting accounts of the random, late-night brawl between Ramirez and the group of intoxicated teenagers.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys clashed over the mindset of the belligerent teens who called Ramirez an ethic slur, told him to go back to Mexico, and assaulted him with their fists and feet.
Federal charges were brought against Donchak and Piekarsky after another all-white jury acquitted them of serious state crimes, including third-degree murder for Piekarsky who was accused of delivering the fatal kick to Ramirez's head.
The area's Hispanic community was appalled by the May 2009 verdict, claiming Ramirez's death was part of a rising tide of hate crimes against Latinos.
Two other teens who pleaded guilty and testified against Donchak and Piekarsly were convicted of a hate crime under the Fair Housing Act.
Donchak also was convicted of two counts that he conspired with three Shenandoah police officers to cover up the crime. Those officers were tried last month in federal court on charges they obstructed a federal investigation into the fatal beating, but a jury rejected most of the government's case.
Donchak and Piekarsky both plan to appeal the verdict.