The third round of a hate crime trial opened today in Coeur d’Alene, with two brothers accused of racially harassing a Latino man in the summer of 2009.
The first trial ended in mistrial in March after the first witness took the stand and referred to the incident on a 911 tape as a “racist thing,” offering an opinion for which Kootenai County 1st District Judge John Luster said the prosecution had not laid proper foundation.
The second trial ended in April with a hung jury on the two counts against William Tankovich and Frank Tankovich. Jurors voted 11-1 in favor of acquittal on the charge of malicious harassment and 8-4 in favor of not guilty on a second charge of conspiracy to commit malicious harassment. The verdict must be unanimous. The jury foreman at the time said the jury had struggled to connect the threats with race.
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 requires agreement among more than two people to make that threat.
The jury found a third brother, Ira Tankovich, 48, guilty of conspiracy to disturb the peace. He also pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a handgun in connection with the incident and was sentenced in August to nine years in prison, three of those fixed.
The third trial involves only William Tankovich, 50, and Frank Tankovich, 47.
The alleged crime occurred Aug. 16, 2009, outside the Coeur d’Alene home of Kenneth Requena, who is Puerto Rican. Requena was sitting in his open garage with his wife and adult son on a hot afternoon when the Tankovich brothers drove by with other family members in a pickup, then stopped and backed up.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Art Verharen said Requena felt so threatened by how they looked at him and by a swastika on the Tankovich brothers’ truck that he asked his wife to get his handgun and call 911. When the Tankoviches saw the gun, he said, they left but told Requena they’d be back.
Defense attorneys, however, said the Tankoviches were driving by the home, saw Requena’s electrical contracting van and stopped to ask if they could buy some cable. When they approached the driveway, Requena pulled a gun on them, which upset them.
The Tankoviches did return 20 to 30 minutes later. Frank and William walked from one direction with a pit bull and Ira returned from another, with a gun. The Requenas called the police again when they saw the brothers approaching. Ira Tankovich, who was seen throwing his gun into a neighboring yard, was taken into custody. William and Frank Tankovich yelled and argued with police, and used repeated racial slurs to describe Requena.
Verharen said William and Frank Tankovich also repeatedly threatened Requena, saying they were going to “take care of this ourselves.”
Defense attorney Chris Schwartz, however, said the Tankoviches returned because they were upset Requena had pulled a gun on them. He said his client, William Tankovich, was among those who called 911. He said the pit bull never threatened anyone or even barked. He said Ira Tankovich was “acting on his own” and that William and Frank Tankovich had no idea their brother would return to the house with a gun.
Schwartz said the Tankoviches used racial slurs to refer to Requena while talking to the police because they were angry he wouldn’t be arrested for pulling a gun.
“This case isn’t about race,” said defense attorney Jed Whitaker, who represents Frank Tankovich.
Schwartz said during a lunch break that he believes the case is being re-tried because hate crimes are high-profile in Kootenai County, considering the region’s history of struggle with white supremacy. “I think it’s a big waste of county resources,” Schwartz said of the trial shortly before Judge Luster ordered attorneys in the case not to talk to the media.
County Prosecutor Barry McHugh said he does not think “it’s appropriate for a counsel on either side to be making comments during a trial on the merits of the trial.”