Cross burning suspects plead not guilty
July 26, 2011
By LISA RIZZO
Four Central Coast residents charged with committing a hate crime against a black teen in predominately white Arroyo Grande pleaded not guilty Monday in a San Luis Obispo Superior courtroom.
On March 18, Jason Kahn, 36, Jeremiah Hernandez, 32, William Soto, 20, and Sara Matheny, 24, allegedly set ablaze an 11-foot cross in direct view of a 19-year-old black woman’s bedroom in the home she resided in with her mixed race family, according to the Arroyo Grande Police Department.
The four suspects entered not guilty pleas during their arraignments Monday and formally faced felony charges of arson, cross burning, terrorism, and conspiracy. The charges include hate crime enhancements.
Kahn was also charged with witness intimidation.
In a press conference last Friday, Arroyo Grande Police Chief Steven Annibali said there is some evidence the suspects are connected to organized hate groups. He added, they believe the suspects burned the cross in order to terrorize the black victim.
The investigation into the cross, which had been stolen from St. John’s Lutheran Church in Arroyo Grande more than two weeks prior, is ongoing.
The apparent hate crime, which immediately shocked Central Coast residents and prompted community forums, has gained national media attention from the West Coast to New York.
Some Arroyo Grande leaders were initially in disbelief inferring the cross burning may have been a prank. The police department, however, solicited the support of 12 additional law enforcement agencies including federal investigators to conduct the hate crime probe.
The suspects are scheduled to be back in San Luis Obispo Superior Court for a pre-preliminary hearing which is set for August 15 at 8:30 a.m.