April 20, 2010 in City

Hate crime case leaves jury divided

Ira Tankovich found guilty on one count, but jurors split on brothers’ charges
By The Spokesman-Review
 
PHOTOS BY JESSE TINSLEY photo

Ira Tankovich smiles after the verdict is read in a Kootenai County courtroom Monday. Tankovich and two brothers were on trial for malicious harassment, but the jury hung on all counts except one – conspiracy to disturb the peace. At left is defense attorney Brad Chapman.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

A North Idaho man was convicted of conspiracy to disturb the peace in the first hate crime case to go to trial in Coeur d’Alene in recent years.

But the jury deadlocked on two counts of malicious harassment against the man’s brothers.

After the verdict was read, Ira G. Tankovich, 48, turned to his family and said, “I won,” because he was not found guilty of the more serious felony charge of conspiring to commit malicious harassment.

Jurors also deadlocked on two conspiracy counts filed against his brothers, William M. Tankovich, 49, and Frank J. Tankovich, 46. The brothers were accused of making racially motivated threats toward Kenneth Requena, who is Puerto Rican, last August.

William and Frank Tankovich were charged with conspiracy to commit malicious harassment and with malicious harassment, but the jury could not reach a unanimous decision, as required, on either count.

Jury foreman Sam Neal said the jury was divided 11-1 in favor of finding William and Frank Tankovich not guilty on malicious harassment and 8-4 in favor of not guilty on the conspiracy charge. However, their decision had to be unanimous.

“The struggle was the race issue,” Neal said. “The sticking point was tying race to the threats.”

To prove malicious harassment, the prosecution must show that a threat of physical injury was made based on race, color or national origin. A conspiracy conviction required agreement among more than two people to make that threat.

On Aug. 16, 2009, prosecutors said, the three Tankoviches drove past Requena’s Coeur d’Alene home, stopped and backed up. Prosecutors said two of the three Tankovich brothers are tattooed with racist symbols and their truck had “Born to Kill” and a swastika drawn in dirt on it.

They got out and started walking toward the home, and Kenneth Requena said he felt so threatened that he asked his wife to get his gun and call 911. When the Tankoviches saw the gun, they left, but they returned on foot 20 minutes later from two different directions. Frank and William Tankovich returned with a pit bull, and Ira Tankovich carried a loaded handgun.

Police arrived simultaneously and immediately took Ira Tankovich, a convicted felon, into custody after seeing him throw his .22-caliber handgun into a neighboring driveway. The other two brothers were not arrested but repeatedly referred to Requena using racial slurs and made statements about taking care of matters themselves, according to court testimony.

Defense attorneys, however, said the Tankoviches were driving by, saw Requena’s electrical contracting van and stopped to buy some phone cable, and then were surprised when he pulled a gun. They returned, their attorneys said, to report the incident to police. Evidence included a 911 call made from the scene by William Tankovich.

The defense confirmed that the Tankoviches made repeated racial slurs but said that was because they were angry Requena wouldn’t be arrested for pulling the gun. They said the case was not about race, but a neighborhood dispute gone awry.

“It’s all trumped-up charges,” William Tankovich said as he left court Monday with his family.

“It was never, ever a hate crime,” said his wife, Chris Tankovich.

First District Judge John Luster ruled that Ira Tankovich would be released on his own recognizance on the misdemeanor charge, having already served six months, the equivalent to the maximum penalty. However, he will remain jailed on an additional charge of being a felon in possession of a handgun. His bail is $125,000.

Frank Tankovich remains jailed pending resolution of the charges. William Tankovich is free on bail.

Kootenai County Prosecutor Barry McHugh said he will decide within the next couple of weeks whether to retry Frank and William Tankovich. “I don’t make it a practice, and I certainly don’t encourage my prosecutors to bring cases to trial if we don’t believe we have a fighting chance of prevailing,” McHugh said.

Defense attorney Chris Schwartz, who represented William Tankovich, said he hoped the jury split would make a difference in that decision. “I would hope 11-1 in favor of not guilty would prompt the state to rethink whether this will be retried,” Schwartz said.

A first trial ended in mistrial last month after the first witness called referred to the incident on a 911 tape as a “racist thing,” offering an opinion for which Luster said the prosecution had not laid proper foundation.


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