Fourth Arroyo Grande cross burner sentenced to jail
June 28, 2012
The fourth defendant accused of committing a hate crime against a black teen in Arroyo Grande last year was sentenced to 11 years in prison on Wednesday.
San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Jacquelyn Duffy sentenced Jeremiah Leo “Smurf” Hernandez, 33, to prison after he was found guilty of four criminal counts, including hate crime enhancements.
Hernandez was the only defendant who chose to take his case to court. The other three defendants agreed to plea agreements.
The alleged ring leader, Jason Kahn, 36, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for two counts of terrorism and for committing a hate crime. Sara Matheny, 24, and William Soto, 20, received sentences of five years each for one count of arson and terrorism, and for committing a hate crime.
On March 18, 2011, Kahn, Hernandez, Soto, and Matheny allegedly set ablaze an 11-foot cross in direct view of the 19-year-old woman’s bedroom in the home she resided in with her mixed-race family.
Hernandez’s attorney Raymond Allen said that his client did not not know a black teen lived in the house. He claimed the cross burning was a memorial to Jason Kahn’s father who had been shot and killed by deputies at the same site 17 years ago.
Prosecutors argued that the suspects immediately fled the scene because it was a hate crime not a memorial.
In the end, jurors concluded the cross burning was both a memorial to Kahn’s father and a hate crime.