Crime

Suspect in Arroyo Grande cross-burning wants case dismissed

The lawyer representing one of four people accused of burning an 11-foot-tall cross near the home of an African-American teen in Arroyo Grande has filed a motion to dismiss the charges.

Sara Matheny’s lawyer, Trevor Creel, is seeking to dismiss hate-crime allegations in relation to the cross burning on March 18 in Arroyo Grande.

Matheny and three others — Jason Kahn, Jeremiah “Smurf” Hernandez and William Soto — have pleaded not guilty to charges.

Creel is scheduled to appear in San Luis Obispo Superior Court before Judge Teresa Estrada-Mullaney on Monday to determine a date to argue the motion.

He contends that a statute on cross burnings requires the object to be burned at the residence of the alleged victim. The cross in Arroyo Grande was burned in the yard next door to where the teen lives. Other lawyers involved in the case are expected to join in the motion.

Soto will likely be assigned a new attorney because he filed a motion to appoint another lawyer in his case. Judge Jacquelyn Duffy granted the motion Wednesday afternoon. Soto had been represented by Gael Mueller.

On Wednesday, Hernandez’s attorney, Raymond Allen, sought to separate his client’s case from the other three defendants.

Allen said in court that his client wasn’t at the scene of the crime. Allen said that he won’t argue that the cross-burning incident was an act of free speech, and that other defendants may be able to testify that he wasn’t at the scene if his trial is handled separately from the others.

Duffy tentatively ruled against separating Hernandez’s case pending future consideration of a possible motion from the other defendants to waive their right to a trial within the statutory limit. Hernandez doesn’t want to waive his statutory time limit to a trial, Allen said. The trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 28.

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