Federal judge rules Philadelphia murder case must be prosecuted under hate crime law

A federal judge has ruled that two young men who are accused of murdering a teenager in Philadelphia will face federal hate crime charges.

Dquay Means and Brandon Piekarsky, both 20, are charged with murder in the killing of victim Edith Hinton, 16, which prosecutors said was racially motivated. They were both arrested in September and charged with murder and aggravated assault, in addition to hate crime charges.

Thursday’s ruling also ordered those charges to be tried together in federal court, as did a still-pending murder charge against a third man accused of being a lookout.

The men, who are black, were accused of fatally shooting the black teenager and beating up his attackers, all of whom were black.

At a recent pretrial hearing, prosecutors called a series of witnesses who said they saw Means and Piekarsky walk by Hinton and then watching and laughing as they stabbed and shot her. The attack occurred on 15 September 2017 in South Philadelphia, about three miles away from Hinton’s home.

“I would describe him as my little brother,” Adnan Khan, an African American man who witnessed the attack, told prosecutors. “I just didn’t understand why he did what he did. I tried to try to tell him to stop … There was no reason for it, there was not a reason.”

“Why do you think he stabbed her?” Khan was asked.

“I saw him stab her,” he replied.

The May hearing involved a motion filed by prosecutors that sought to combine the hate crime and murder charges against the three men, as well as a related obstruction of justice charge.

“Combining the hate crime and murder charges together denies those victims constitutional due process and equal protection under the law,” an attorney for one of the defendants argued in part of the hearing. “It is unconstitutional. It’s like they’re coming in and taking over our courts.”

But during Thursday’s hearing Judge Eduardo Robreno, of the federal court in Philadelphia, ruled that the two separate homicide charges would instead be merged into one “without prejudice”. Robreno also ruled that charges against a third man, who was accused of being a lookout during the incident, could be transferred from district court to federal court. A call to the lawyer representing the third man wasn’t immediately returned.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner referred to the incident as a “stereotypical racist killing” in a news release after the federal ruling was issued. A spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office declined to comment on Friday.

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