Cross-burning suspect will stay in SLO County Jail

A judge denied a motion Monday that, if granted, would have released a suspect from jail who’s accused of burning a cross near a black teen’s home in Arroyo Grande.

Jeremiah “Smurf” Hernandez, 33, had sought to be released on his own recognizance from San Luis Obispo County Jail.

That would have meant he would have been freed with the promise to appear at scheduled court hearings. He’s in custody in lieu of $100,000 bail.

The trial against Hernandez and three others — Jason Kahn, Sarah Matheny and William Soto — is scheduled to begin Feb. 6 before San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Jacquelyn Duffy, who is also the judge who denied Hernandez’s motion.

Each defendant has pleaded not guilty to charges that include arson and racially motivated terrorism.Kahn also recently pleaded not guilty to a new felony charge of possessing a controlled substance inside the jail.

The cross-burning incident took place March 18 on a property adjacent to the young black woman’s home. The 19-year-old was watching television with a friend when she noticed a glowing light outside her window, then saw a cross burning in the neighbor’s yard, she told police.

Hernandez’s attorney, Raymond Allen, has previously argued that his client was not present at the scene of the burning and wasn’t involved.

Police have claimed to identify three of the defendants — Soto, Matheny and Hernandez — in surveillance video at a Chevron gas station the day of the cross burning in which they emerged from a red SUV.

But the lawyers representing Hernandez and Matheny questioned the accuracy of the identifications.

Defense attorneys also have expressed doubt about the credibility of witnesses who reportedly told police that some of the suspects made admissions to them of their involvement in the crime.

Allen’s argument for his client’s release included allowing Hernandez the freedom to prepare for his defense outside custody.

Duffy has issued an order that has barred defendants from possessing court documents in their jail cells.

Attorneys with the defendants therefore must meet with their clients in a room at County Jail and allow them to read the documents, which are hundreds of pages, until 30 days before trial, when they have a legal right to possess them.

Prosecutor Dave Pomeroy filed the motion contending that allowing the defendants to possess the documents, such as police reports, puts witnesses in the case at risk.