Former officer acquitted by jury; two others found guilty of one charge each
WILKES-BARRE - Tears of joy mingled with sadness as one former Shenandoah policeman was acquitted Thursday of obstructing the investigation of the fatal beating of an illegal Mexican immigrant, while two of his former colleagues were each convicted of one charge.
In a courtroom packed with the defendants' families and friends, and after about 14 hours of deliberations over two days, a federal jury of eight women and four men found Jason Hayes, 37, of Shenandoah, not guilty of conspiracy and filing a false police report.
"I feel terrific," said a smiling Hayes, who added that he wants to become a policeman again.
However, the same jury found Matthew R. Nestor guilty of filing a false police report and William Moyer guilty of lying to the FBI. Jurors ruled Nestor and Moyer not guilty of conspiracy and Moyer not guilty of filing a false police report, tampering with evidence and tampering with a witness.
"I think I had a fair jury," Moyer said. "I'm very thankful I was found not guilty of the other charges. The thing I'm most thankful for is that I have a good family behind me."
Nestor said nothing as he left the Max Rosenn United States Courthouse, Wilkes-Barre, following the verdict, which provoked happiness among Hayes' family and friends, especially his fiancee, Tammy Piekarsky, who jumped up and down and wept with joy after he was found not guilty.
Senior U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo, who presided over the 13-day trial, set April 29 as the date for the sentencing of Nestor and Moyer, who face possible sentences of 20 years and five years, respectively. Both men are free pending sentencing.
Joseph P. Nahas Jr., Frackville, one of Nestor's lawyers, said he would "absolutely" file an appeal of his client's conviction, while Enid W. Harris, Kingston, Moyer's lawyer, said she probably would not appeal her client's conviction.
Any appeal by Nestor or Moyer would be heard by the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Prosecutors are legally barred from appealing the not guilty verdicts.
"You can never tell what a jury's going to do," a disappointed Nahas said. "The process isn't over."
Harris said she and her client were mostly, but not entirely, happy with the verdict.
"We would have preferred to have an acquittal," she said.
Hayes' lawyers, Frank W. Nocito and Philip Gelso, both of Kingston, expressed no such reservations about the verdict.
"We're very happy with the verdict," Nocito said. "Justice was done."
Federal prosecutors Myesha K. Braden and Shan Patel declined to comment on the verdict, which Braden said is government policy.
Jurors deliberated seven hours Wednesday and an additional seven hours Thursday before rendering their verdict, which climaxed a case that brought renewed attention to an incident that made headlines across the country.
Federal prosecutors alleged that Nestor, Moyer and Hayes, who were chief, lieutenant and officer, respectively, of the seven-man Shenandoah police department, conspired to obstruct the investigation of the July 12, 2008, beating of Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala on West Lloyd Street near the Vine Street Park in Shenandoah.
Ramirez, 25, of Shenandoah, died of head injuries two days after the beating at Geisinger Medical Center, Danville. His case attracted national and international attention due to issues of race, ethnicity and illegal immigration.
Prosecutors said the three defendants filed false police reports, especially by writing that Arielle Garcia, a witness to Ramirez's beating, said Brian Scully, one of four young men charged with the assault on Ramirez, kicked him in the head, thereby causing his death. Prosecutors alleged the former officers were trying to divert attention away from Brandon J. Piekarsky, another man charged in Ramirez' beating and son of Tammy Piekarsky.
The defendants said they properly investigated the case and denied that their reports were false in any way. Two other police officers, Frackville's Michelle Ashman and West Mahanoy Township's Robert Senape, supported their claim that Garcia said Scully kicked Ramirez.
Scully, 20, of Shenandoah, and Colin J. Walsh, 19, of Shenandoah Heights, who also was charged in connection with Ramirez's beating, testified on behalf of prosecutors.
Scully pleaded guilty in Schuylkill County juvenile court, while Walsh has pleaded guilty to violating Ramirez's civil rights under the federal Fair Housing Act and is awaiting sentencing.
The other two men charged in Ramirez's beating, Piekarsky, 19, of Shenandoah Heights, and Derrick M. Donchak, 20, of Shenandoah, were convicted Oct. 14. 2010, in U.S. District Court in Scranton of violating Ramirez's civil rights under the federal Fair Housing Act. Caputo, who also presided over their eight-day trial, is scheduled to sentence each of them Feb. 23 in Wilkes-Barre; Donchak and Piekarsky each face a possible life sentence.
Donchak and Piekarsky already have served time in Schuylkill County Prison after being convicted May 1, 2009, in the county court of simple assault and alcohol-related offenses in connection with Ramirez's beating. They were acquitted in that five-day trial of more serious crimes, including third-degree murder in Piekarsky's case.
That conviction occurred after county District Attorney James P. Goodman removed the case from the hands of Shenandoah police and had his own detectives bring it to court.
Nestor's legal troubles are not over, however.
On Feb. 7, he and former Shenandoah police Capt. Jamie Gennarini are scheduled to go on trial before Caputo in Wilkes-Barre on charges stemming from their alleged participation in an extortion racket in Shenandoah.
On June 3, he and Gennarini are scheduled to have a civil trial in which they are defendants before U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III in Harrisburg. In that case, the parents of David Vega allege the two men killed Vega in the Shenandoah lockup and contrived to make it look like a suicide. Neither man faces criminal charges over that incident.
Nestor, Gennarini, Moyer and Hayes all have resigned their positions with the Shenandoah police department.