GLENDALE — Citing insufficient evidence, a Superior Court judge struck down a hate crime allegation Wednesday against a 23-year-old man accused of smashing a religious monument at St. Mary's Armenian Apostolic Church.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Patrick Hegarty also struck down a misdemeanor charge of possessing tools with the intent to commit vandalism filed against Glendale resident Victor Petrescu, said district attorney spokeswoman Shiara Davila-Morales.
Hegarty upheld a felony vandalism charge along with an enhancement for damages exceeding more than $50,000, she said.
Petrescu is scheduled to be arraigned on the charge in the Los Angeles County Superior Court in Pasadena on Oct. 13, Davila-Morales said.
Attorney Garo Ghazarian, vice chairman of the Armenian Bar Assn. who saw a portion of the hearing, said Hegarty struck down the hate crime allegation due to Petrescu's potential mental state during the incident.
Petrescu had been originally charged with vandalism against a church, but prosecutors later amended the complaint to include the hate crime allegation after further review.
Glendale Police Chief Ron De Pompa had also asked prosecutors to reconsider the evidence for the hate crime enhancement.
Armenian community members expressed concerns about Petrescu's actions and wanted assurances that the case was looked at closely.
"It prompted a very detailed investigation on our part and very careful reevaluation of the facts by the police department," De Pompa said at the time.
Police officials declined to comment Wednesday on the judge's action.
But Mayor Ara Najarian said the judge's ruling was troubling, and may signal to the community that a person can avoid serious punishment for attacking an Armenian church.
"I think it just sends a terrible message to the community," he said.
Two Glendale police detectives spotted Petrescu on Aug. 11 using a sledgehammer on the church's cross-stone on the 500 block of South Central Avenue before they chased and arrested him.
The monument, donated to the church in 2001 to commemorate the day 1,700 years ago that Armenians adopted Christianity, sustained an estimated $80,000 in damages to its carvings, church officials said.
A spokesman for the church could not be reached for comment.