Arroyo Grande cross burning suspects claim innocence
March 29, 2012
The four defendants accused of committing a hate crime against a black teen in Arroyo Grande last year refused the San Luis Obispo District Attorneys office offer of plea agreements. As a result, a trial was set for May 7.
On March 18, 2011, 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 woman’s bedroom in the home she resided in with her mixed race family. Each of the defendants pled not guilty in July.
Kahn’s attorney Trace Milan claims that his client did not know a black teen lived at the property adjacent to a vacant lot where a 12-foot wooden cross, stolen from a nearby church, was erected and set on fire. Milan says Kahn was memorializing his father who died at a home on the other side of the vacant lot.
In 1994, sheriff’s deputies shot and killed Jason Kahn’s father, Rick Kahn, after he charged at them with a knife. A swat team had been sent to the Arroyo Grande home to search for Rick Kahn who was suspected of murdering a fellow methamphetamine dealer on the Nipomo mesa.
Deputies shot and killed Rick Kahn’s dog after the suspected murderer sent the animal after officers, sources said. Rick Kahn responded by charging deputies with a knife in hand.
Jason Kahn claims he and friends had gone to the site, a neighborhood south of East Grand, to mark the date of his father’s birthday the following day, March 19.
“This is 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.”
However, several long-term residents of the neighborhood contend they cannot remember the brothers or any one else memorializing the area with flowers in the past.
Law enforcement and the alleged victims do not agree the crime was not hate related.
Kahn, who sports a swastika tattoo on the back of his head, had allegedly met the victim prior to the cross burning.
Evidence at the scene points at the alleged cross burners first attempting to dig a hole in front of the black teen’s home, a place where the cross could not stand because of low-hanging branches.
The cross appears to have then been dragged around to the side of the empty lot and placed outside the teen’s window much closer to the her home than the home on the other side of the vacant lot where Rick Kahn was shot.
The attorney for Hernandez argued his client had nothing to do with the cross burning. Soto and Matheny are also claiming they are not guilty of the alleged hate crime.
Prior to the May 7 court date, there is still the possibility the defendants will agree to a plea deal in which they would likely receive a lesser penalty than would be handed down as the result of a guilty verdict.