Five white supremacists accused of a 1983 cross burning in Lake View Terrace pleaded not guilty at an unusual arraignment Wednesday in which they had requested that one charge against each of them be tried as a felony rather than a misdemeanor.
The men, including Tom Metzger, a California Ku Klux Klan leader from Fallbrook in San Diego County, entered their pleas before Los Angeles Municipal Judge Alban I. Niles, who scheduled their next court appearance for Oct. 9, when a pretrial hearing will be scheduled.
The request for a felony charge entitles the suspects to a preliminary hearing, at which they can hear the evidence against them and seek to have a judge dismiss the case instead of scheduling a trial, said Al Albergate, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County district attorney.
However, if the counts are heard as felonies, the defendants will face state prison instead of County Jail terms if convicted and will be prosecuted by the district attorney rather than the city attorney, Albergate said.
Besides Metzger, defendants Stanley Witek, Erich Schmidt, Irvin Alcorne and Winston Burbage asked that one count of either conspiracy or possession of a billy club be tried as a felony.
Four other defendants in the case also pleaded not guilty, but they did not choose to have one of the counts tried as a felony, Albergate said.