April 14, 2010 in Idaho

North Idaho hate trial takes new turn

Certain evidence about wife’s comments prohibited
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Background

Mistrial

The judge declared a mistrial in the first trial March 30, saying a deputy prosecutor failed to lay a foundation of evidence before playing a recording of a 911 call that introduced jurors to the opinions of a neighbor, who said the incident appeared to be “a racist thing.”

A hate crime trial in Coeur d’Alene that was halted in a mistrial last month got even more complicated Tuesday when a judge prohibited defense attorneys from introducing evidence that the alleged victim’s wife at one point may have claimed her husband provoked the attack.

Prosecutors dispute the defense theory.

But attorneys representing three brothers charged with yelling racial slurs and threats at Kenneth Requena last August asked Kootenai County 1st District Judge John Luster to let them question Requena’s wife, Kimberly, about a March argument in which she is charged with threatening her husband with a gun.

Defense attorney Christopher Schwartz said it’s his understanding that Kimberly Requena told police she was angry with her husband in March for somehow provoking the earlier confrontation between himself and Ira G. Tankovich, 48, William M. Tankovich, 49, and Frank J. Tankovich, 46, during the Aug. 16 incident outside the Requenas’ Coeur d’Alene home.

“She testified to the grand jury … that they did not do anything to provoke the Tankoviches,” Schwartz argued. “Then we find out later that it may not be a random event.”

But Luster would not allow any mention of the domestic violence case during the Tankovich trial because Kimberly Requena could be put in a situation where her testimony could be used against her in the pending unrelated case.

“How do we get over that hurdle?” Luster asked. “It is clear in my mind that she is entitled to a Fifth Amendment protection” against self-incrimination.

Kenneth Requena is expected to take the stand today as the trial against the Tankoviches continues.

Ira Tankovich, a convicted felon, is charged with conspiracy to commit malicious harassment, and William and Frank are both charged with malicious harassment in connection with an incident on Aug. 16 outside the home of Kenneth Requena, who is Puerto Rican.

Witnesses said the Tankoviches drove up to the Requena home in a pickup, which had a swastika and “born to kill” written in the dirt clinging to the vehicle.

Kenneth and Kimberly Requena were sitting in their open garage when the Tankoviches stopped, reversed and parked in front of their driveway. Yelling ensued and the men left only after Kenneth Requena displayed a handgun, witnesses said.

Coeur d’Alene police arrived, but the officers left before the Tankoviches returned on foot from two different directions.

Frank and William Tankovich reappeared walking a pit bull, and the confrontation began anew, witnesses said. Coeur d’Alene police officers arrived for a second time just as Ira Tankovich walked up with a gun of his own.

Ira Tankovich, who was convicted in 1990 of voluntary manslaughter in California and has “Aryan” tattooed on his left leg and “pride” tattooed on his right, threw the gun into some bushes. Officers immediately arrested him.

As officers processed the scene, William and Frank Tankovich continued to yell at Kenneth Requena, including racial slurs, Deputy Prosecutor Art Verharen said in court.

“They told him he had messed with the wrong people,” Verharen said. “They made repeated racial slurs … and repeated threats.”

But defense attorney Brad Chapman, who is representing Ira Tankovich, said the Tankoviches had seen Requena’s truck that indicated he was an electrician. Chapman said they stopped to buy some electrical cables when Requena began yelling at them.

“Assumptions were made by Mr. Requena,” Chapman said. “Mr. Requena produced a gun. They didn’t think that was a neighborly thing to do. Several people called the police, including the Tankoviches.”

Defense attorney Dan Cooper, who represents Frank Tankovich, said Requena was operating “under passion and fear” when he pulled the gun during the confrontation.

“There is not any effort to commit a crime. This case is about a neighborhood encounter,” Cooper said. “It’s not based on hate.”

Schwartz acknowledged his client, William Tankovich, made racial slurs toward Requena even after the police arrived.

“It’s despicable. Some of you may find it very offensive,” Schwartz told the jury. “But it is not illegal.”

The judge declared a mistrial in the first trial on March 30 after Verharen played a recording of a 911 call made by a next-door neighbor who could be heard telling the dispatcher that she believed the incident she saw from her window was “a racist thing.”

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