The judge on a Coeur d’Alene hate crime trial said Thursday that if he were ruling on the case instead of a jury, he would find that insufficient evidence existed for conviction.
Kootenai County 1st District Judge John Luster made the comment while denying a defense motion to dismiss the case against three brothers accused of racially harassing a Hispanic man in August.
Deputy Prosecutor Art Verharen expressed concern that the judge’s personal opinion would be reported by the media. Luster, however, said jurors have been instructed to avoid reading coverage of the trial.
“We have to proceed and conduct ourselves as though the jury is not reading the newspaper,” Luster said.
The jury likely will get the case today following closing arguments. Both the prosecution and defense rested Thursday in the trial of Ira G. Tankovich, 48, William M. Tankovich, 49, and Frank J. Tankovich, 46. The brothers are charged with yelling racial slurs and threats at Kenneth Requena, who is Puerto Rican.
Ira Tankovich, a convicted felon, is charged with conspiracy to commit malicious harassment and William and Frank Tankovich are charged with malicious harassment in the Aug. 16 incident outside Requena’s home.
Witnesses say the Tankoviches drove by the Requena home in a pickup, then stopped. The three brothers got out and approached the home and Requena felt so threatened he asked his wife to get a gun from inside the house and call 911. Yelling ensued, and the Tankoviches left after seeing the handgun.
Police arrived, but left before the Tankoviches returned on foot. The police came back in time to see Ira Tankovich throw his own handgun into a neighbor’s bushes.
The defense’s case included a 911 call made by William Tankovich. In it, he can be heard saying “a beaner pulled a gun on me at 20th and Pennsylania,” before the call disconnects. When the dispatcher called back, Tankovich told her that he stopped at the house to buy some phone line and someone pulled a gun on him.
“Why would anyone invite the cops to their own conspiracy?” attorney Christopher Schwartz, who represents William Tankovich, said in a phone interview. “He’s trying to report a crime.”
However, Coeur d’Alene city police officers called to the stand by the prosecution painted a different picture. The five officers on Thursday described a scene in which Frank and William Tankovich were aggressive, confrontational and yelling profanities and racial slurs. Officers made note of the tattoos on Ira’s legs, which depict stars and the words “Aryan pride,” and testified that Ira and William Tankovich smelled of alcohol.
Officer Henry Dunham said William Tankovich “made the statement several times that he was going to take care of the situation himself.”
The officers described handcuffing Ira Tankovich after seeing him throw a .22-caliber handgun into a neighboring driveway after police arrived.
Sgt. Jason Ayers displayed that gun and its hollow-point bullets to the jury and explained that when the end of a bullet is hollowed out, “it helps the bullet expand and mushroom” upon impact.
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