The four people accused of a hate crime burning a large cross next to a black teens home last year in Arroyo Grande couldnt reach a plea agreement with the prosecution Wednesday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.
As a result, a trial date has been set for May 7. There is still the possibility of an agreement being reached in the future.
Lawyers met for about an hour behind closed doors to discuss whether they could find middle ground on potential penalties in the case against Jason Kahn, Sara Matheny, Jeremiah Hernandez and William Soto. They are accused of burning an 11-foot-tall cross on the property next to a black teenagers home in Arroyo Grande a year ago.
Each defendant has pleaded not guilty, but the possibility of a plea agreement was on the table Wednesday as Deputy District Attorney Dave Pomeroy made offers to them. None of the attorneys revealed specifics of the plea negotiations.
When Pomeroy and the four defense attorneys representing the defendants emerged from Judge Jacquelyn Duffys chamber shortly before 5 p.m., Duffy announced the trial date.
Discussions among lawyers about the possibility of a no-contest plea bargain during the course of a criminal case are common, carrying a variety of considerations on both sides of the argument.
Factors include how the evidence of a case will appear to a jury and whether its more prudent for a criminal defendant not to contest charges and accept responsibility. Plea deals often result in a lesser penalty than a potential guilty verdict on all charges.
Duffy announced that a jury would be allowed to hear evidence that Kahns father was shot and killed at the yard of the cross burning in 1994. But extensive background information of that incident wouldnt be revealed to a jury.
Kahns attorney, Trace Milan, has said that the yard was a place where his client and family members had mourned Ricky Kahns death in the past. Milan has not acknowledged that his client was at the scene of the cross burning last March, however.
Hernandez has pushed to move the court process along as quickly as possible, and his attorney, Raymond Allen, has argued his client had nothing to do with the alleged crime. Matheny and Soto have previously denied guilt as well.