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Jury weighs hate charges against N. Idaho brothers

Sat., April 17, 2010

Defendants’ lawyers say case isn’t about race

A jury will reconvene Monday morning in the hate crime trial of three Coeur d’Alene brothers accused of racially harassing a Hispanic man last August.

Ira G. Tankovich, 48, is charged with conspiracy to commit malicious harassment, and his two brothers, William M. Tankovich, 49, and Frank J. Tankovich, 46, are charged with conspiracy and with malicious harassment for the Aug. 16 incident outside the home of Kenneth Requena, who is Puerto Rican.

A malicious harassment conviction would require the jury find that Requena was threatened with physical injury because of his race or ethnicity. A conspiracy conviction would require that an agreement existed between two or more people to commit such an act, 1st District Judge John Luster told the jury.

In closing arguments, Kootenai County Deputy Prosecutor Art Verharen said Requena is a dark-skinned man who was sitting in his garage with his white wife when the men drove by in a pickup truck bearing a swastika. They backed up, stopped in the middle of the street, and got out. Verharen said Ira’s tattoos depict stars and the words “Aryan pride,” and William’s, the Nazi “SS” insignia, which defense attorneys contend merely shows lightning bolts.

The men left when Requena displayed a handgun, Verharen said, but returned, from two different directions. Two brothers walked a pit bull and the third approached from a different direction with a loaded gun. Two neighbors watching the scene called 911.

“You can see the different levels of threats that were faced by Kenneth Requena,” Verharen said. “Keep in mind the level of planning they had to do here.”

Verharen said the brothers repeatedly used the word “beaner.”

“They didn’t call Mr. Requena a jerk,” Verharen said. “They chose the one word that was racially insensitive to that person and they said it over and over and over again.”

The three defense attorneys said the case is not about race. It is about three brothers driving by the home and Requena making a provocative gesture toward them, then pulling a gun.

They tried to cast doubt about whether a swastika really was drawn in the dirt on the truck, about whether the Tankoviches actually made threatening statements or whether they were just angry when they learned Requena wouldn’t be arrested for pulling a gun. They said the Tankoviches used racial slurs, but did not do so in a threatening manner.

“It was to retaliate for Mr. Requena’s unlawful and unwarranted use of a firearm,” said attorney Christopher Schwartz, who represents William Tankovich.

Schwartz pointed to a 911 tape on which his client can be heard calling the police when the brothers returned to the scene. He asked why, if the Tankoviches were committing a crime, they would invite the police.

“If it was a conspiracy, would they have walked there in broad daylight?” asked attorney Dan Cooper, who represents Frank Tankovich. “This was a neighborhood incident based on misperception. It is not based on race.”

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