Four people accused of burning an 11-foot cross near a mixed-race family’s Arroyo Grande home, continued Wednesday to consider plea bargains that were offered by the prosecution.
Negotiations between defense attorneys and the prosecution inside San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Jacquelyn Duffy’s chambers ended without result as court closed for the day. No details were released about what penalties the four may face, though counter offers have been made.
Jason W. Kahn, 36, of Orcutt, William Soto, 20 of Arroyo Grande, and Sara K. Matheny, 24, and Jeremiah L. Hernandez, 32, both of San Simeon, face charges of arson, cross-burning, terrorism, conspiracy to burn a cross and hate-crime enhancements. All have pleaded not guilty and remain jailed.
The four defendants did not talk to each other Wednesday as they have throughout the proceedings. They seemed very serious and did not make eye contact with friends and family members in the courtroom.
Duffy, who set the jury trail for May, also ruled that potential jurors will be allowed to hear about the death of Jason Kahn’s father, Ricky Kahn, who was killed at the site of the cross-burning by sheriff’s deputies in 1994.
Defense attorneys say the four were there to honor the memory of Kahn’s father, and flowers were also placed there. That’s the motivation for the cross burning and it has nothing to do with a hate crime, they said.
Jason Kahn’s attorney, Trace Milan, has argued none of the defendants knew the family even lived there.
Prosecutor David Pomeroy maintained the details about Kahn’s father are not relevant and “have nothing to do with the case.” The actions of the accused were a “threat,” Pomeroy said.
Duffy, who also ruled that the defense attorney cannot have the sheriff’s report detailing the death of the elder Kahn, has labeled the cross burning “reckless.”
Defense motions that seek all police interviews, 9-1-1 recordings, reports and other evidence will continue next month.
Matheny’s attorney, Trevor C. Creel, has argued the cross burning was “symbolic speech,” and should be protected by the First Amendment.
Hernandez’s attorney, Raymond Allen, said his client was not even at the scene and points out that he’s Native American and Hispanic. He has asked for a separate trial because of fears of guilt by association when jurors hear talk about a white supremacist gang, something that is expected to be brought up if the case goes to trial.
The accused are not charged with the theft of the cross from St. John’s Lutheran Church in Arroyo Grande, court records show.
The cross burning happened March 19, 2011, in a vacant lot on South Elm Street adjacent to the family’s home and the window of a 19-year-old womanShare on Facebook