The place where an alleged cross burning occurred in Arroyo Grande is where a defendant had memorialized his father previously, a defense attorney said Monday, and the incident had nothing to do with a hate crime.
The cross burning occurred March 18, a day before the birthday of Rick Kahn, who died at the same place about 17 years earlier.
Rick Kahn, the late father of defendant Jason Kahn, was born March 19, 1957, according to court records.
Without admitting that his client participated in the cross burning, defense attorney Trace Milan told The Tribune after an arraignment hearing Monday that Jason Kahn didn’t know a black teenager lived at the property adjacent to where his father died, in a neighborhood south of East Grand Avenue.
“This where my client and his brother would leave flowers and visit,” Milan said. “They considered it their ground zero. It was the place where their father had died.”
Four people have pleaded not guilty to felony charges that include arson and terrorism in the burning of an 11-foot-tall wooden cross next door to the residence of a black teenager.
The defendants are Kahn, 36, of Orcutt; William Soto, 20, of Arroyo Grande; Jeremiah Hernandez, 32, of San Simeon; and Sara Matheny, 24, of San Simeon.
The District Attorney’s Office isn’t commenting on specifics of the alleged hate crime.
But Arroyo Grande police Chief Steve Annibali has previously said police have reason to believe the group knew the teenager lived there, though she and the suspects didn’t know each other.
Police weren’t previously aware of the property’s connection to Jason Kahn’s father, Annibali said.
“There’s a lot of ways to honor a person’s memory,” he said. A cross burning “is usually not one of them.”
In April 1994, investigators believed Rick Kahn was responsible for the shooting death of a man named Rick Maloney.
Deputies, who wanted to question Rick Kahn, shot and killed him outside the home after he charged at them with a hunting knife, according to past Tribune reports.
Milan said Jason Kahn “feels badly” that the young woman has suffered from an incident that occurred on the same property that has pained him so much.
Milan also said that, because Soto’s ethnicity is Filipino-American and Hernandez’s is Native American and Hispanic, racism shouldn’t be considered a part of this case.
“I think the ethnicities of those two defendants indicate that this wasn’t a group of white power fanatics,” Milan said.
A pre-preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for Sept. 7 in Judge Jacquelyn Duffy’s courtroom, and a preliminary hearing is on calendar for Sept. 9.