Nine months ago, Schuylkill County grabbed national headlines with the brutal beating death of an illegal immigrant in Shenandoah and subsequent arrest of three high school students in connection with it. The limelight will again shine on our fair county for the next two weeks as two of those students, Brandon Piekarsky and Derrick Donchak, go on trial for their lives starting at 9AM this morning at the Schuylkill County Courthouse.
For legal experts and avid trial watchers, this is going to be a hell of a show.
On one side of the courtroom, we have a prosecution that seems to have a slam dunk. Schuylkill County District Attorney Jim Goodman has a victim, Luis Ramirez, that died in horrid fashion on the cold, dark, streets of Shenandoah, leaving behind a weeping fiance and three young children. He has one of the perpetrators, Colin Walsh, playing the role of Sammy “The Bull” Gravano by testifying for the Commonwealth against his two best friends. And, Goodman has up to six eyewitnesses in the bullpen to corroborate the abundance of physical evidence collected by investigators.
On the other side, we have the best defense counsel money can buy in Fred Fanelli, ready to surgically cut holes in, around, and through the heart of the prosecution’s case. Fanelli will no doubt pounce on the victim’s checkered past, which to this point has been glossed over by the media and involves border-jumping, suspected drug dealing, and alleged sex with his underage soon to be sister-in-law. He will further neutralize jury sympathy for the victim and his family by outing Ramirez’ grieving widow as a a former drug offender and a suspected neglectful parent, who had a Children and Youth Services case file. Finally and most importantly, Fanelli will try to embed doubt into the jury’s mind about whether Ramirez really died when his client, Piekarsky, allegedly kicked him in the head. Medical examiners could not conclusively determine whether it was Walsh’s sucker punch or Piekarsky’s kick that killed Ramirez. With Walsh breaking ranks from his buddies, Fanelli will have the perfect scapegoat and a reasonable explanation about how his guy wasn’t really the killer.
Add to that the circus that will be going on outside with the protests and counter-protests and counter to the counter-protests fueled by a national debate about illegal immigration, along with the political stakes for DA Goodman, and you have a made for cable tv drama not seen in this area ever before.
So, grab your popcorn and set your TiVo for those other fictional programs, because this will be the most entertaining, most talked about, and most anticipated real-life event in a very, very long time.