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Cross-burning not a form of free speech, judge rules

October 25, 2011 | 10:55 am

Four people accused of burning a cross outside the window of a 19-year-old mixed-race woman are not protected by the 1st Amendment, and hate-crime allegations against them will stand, a San Luis Obispo County judge ruled Monday.

The defendants had argued that cross-burning was a protected form of “symbolic” free speech. But the court disagreed and said the incident qualified as an unprotected threat.

Prosecutors charged Jeremiah Hernandez, 32; Jason Kahn, 36; Sara Matheny, 24; and William Soto, 20, with arson and conspiracy that, with Monday’s ruling, will carry hate-crime enhancements.

The defendants are accused of setting fire in March to an 11-foot cross outside an Arroyo Grande home where a 19-year-old woman of mixed African American descent lived.

All four have pleaded not guilty and will return to court Nov. 2.


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