Following a case that spurred local outrage and brought federal investigators to the Central Coast, three defendants in an Arroyo Grande cross-burning have been sentenced to jail time for terrorism charges.
Jason Kahn, Sara Matheny, and William Soto were sentenced May 21 following their pleas of no contest to allegations they burned a large wooden cross, stolen from a local church, on the front lawn of an African-American teenager.
Superior Court Judge Jacquelyn Duffy sentenced Kahn, the alleged ringleader, to 12 years in prison for arson and two counts of terrorism. Both Matheny and Soto were sentenced to five years apiece, each for a single count of arson and terrorism, with enhancements for committing a hate crime.
A fourth defendant, Jeremiah Hernandez, pleaded not guilty to the charges and is currently standing trial, which is expected to wrap up next week.
Kahn’s San Luis Obispo-based attorney, Trace Milan, told New Times that though the crime had the appearance of a racial motivation, his client didn’t know there was an African-American living at the house. Instead, Milan said, the act was a memorial to Kahn’s father, who was shot and killed by police officers at the same residence in 1994.
Milan said his client had prepared to fight the terrorism charges, but a clause within the law regarding “reckless disregard” would have made a trial virtually impossible to win.
“He’s incredibly remorseful,” Milan said, adding that he thought early media attention on the case dictated his client’s inevitable incarceration. “Mr. Kahn lost his father there at that house when he was 19. The image of that house was burned in his mind, and it’s hard for him to think that it’s now the same for another 19-year-old.”
During early court proceedings, however, prosecutor Dave Pomeroy said the nature of the crime, combined with Kahn’s “White Power”-affiliated body art, proved too much a coincidence to ignore.
Milan said he’s no longer representing Kahn after Kahn insisted on testifying on Hernandez’s behalf, against Milan’s advice.