3 defendants in Arroyo Grande cross-burning are sentenced to prison

Two who pleaded no contest get five years; third receives 12 years

nwilson@thetribunenews.comMay 21, 2012 

Three people who pleaded no contest last month to criminal charges relating to a cross burning outside the bedroom window of a black teen in Arroyo Grande last year will serve time in state prison.

Jason Kahn, Sara Matheny and William Soto were sentenced Monday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court before Judge Jacquelyn Duffy.

Kahn was sentenced to 12 years in prison for arson and two counts of terrorism, as well as added penalties for committing a hate crime.

Duffy’s decision took into account Kahn’s criminal record and a conviction on an unrelated crime — the unlawful taking of a vehicle.

Matheny and Soto each were sentenced on one count of arson and terrorism, and received enhanced penalties for committing a hate crime. Both were sentenced to five years in prison. The sentencing also tied in a conviction against Soto for receiving stolen property.

A fourth defendant, Jeremiah Hernandez, has pleaded not guilty to charges related to the cross burning. His trial on those charges is expected to conclude this week.

Just after midnight on March 18 last year, a 19-year-old black wo-man noticed a glowing light outside her window, which police later discovered was a large cross. Police arrested the four after receiving tips from informants.

San Luis Obispo County Deputy District Attorney Dave Pomeroy said the sentencing was an “appropriate” resolution to the case for the three who were sentenced Monday.

Kahn’s attorney, Trace Milan, said on his client’s behalf outside court that Kahn was “sorry” for what occurred, and his apology extends to the community.

Milan contended, as he had during the court proceedings, that his client had been memorializing his father’s death and was not aware a black teen lived next door.

Kahn’s father, Rick Kahn, was killed after charging at sheriff’s deputies with a hunting knife in 1994 at the same property where the cross was burned in 2011. Deputies had gone to the residence to question Rick Kahn about his alleged role in the shooting death of a man named Rick Maloney near Arroyo Grande.

But Pomeroy argued at a preliminary hearing that Jason Kahn’s two swastika tattoos as well as “white power” body art are signs of his affinity for white supremacy.

The suspects fled after setting the cross on fire, Pomeroy said, indicating they didn’t want to be seen. Kahn wanted to testify on Hernandez’s behalf at his trial this week, Milan said in court. Milan has advised him not to do so.

A hearing is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday before Duffy to determine whether Kahn might exercise his Fifth Amendment right to refuse to testify because of the possibility he could incriminate himself. Matheny said in court Monday that she would exercise that right if asked to testify.

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