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Thursday, April 18, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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A Burning Cross Scars Yard, Family In Bothell -- 2Nd Racial Incident Reported In A Week

The hole in the lawn where the cross stood Tuesday night is patched up now, covered with dirt and bark.

For Leonard and Jean Elion, the scars from that hole may never heal.

On Tuesday night, someone stuck a 7-foot cross on the Elions' front yard, doused it with fuel and set it on fire.

And the Elions, African Americans who have felt welcome living in Bothell for the past 13 years, suddenly see their world in a new way.

"In a sense, we feel the family's been raped," said Leonard Elion.

Bothell police had three teen suspects in custody this morning and expected to make an arrest later in the day.

The incident was the second cross-burning in the Puget Sound area in a week. Last Thursday, a Maple Valley man was arrested after he allegedly set a cross on fire in his yard to frighten away a racially mixed couple who planned to buy the house next door.

The Bothell incident "is a very serious crime, a very vicious crime," said Police Chief Mark Ericks, who believes it was a prank committed by youths.

Elion agrees. "I think the kids did it as kind of a mischievous prank - like hitting mailboxes or kicking over trash cans," he said. "I don't believe they knew what they were doing."

Still, the incident was sobering to the father of two, who sat down with his children Tuesday night, talked to them about the history of race relations in this country and warned them always to be on their guard.

"This is a beautiful, nice place to live, but don't let the subtleties fool you," Elion told his children.

Cross-burning, a felony under Washington's malicious-harassment law, carries a maximum fine of $10,000 and 5 years in jail.

"Bigotry, hate and fear will not be tolerated here," Bothell Mayor Paul Cowles said in a statement. "The act itself was cowardly and insidious."

Elion plans to organize community meetings to discuss the incident.

"It's important for kids to know that the city and the neighborhood is not going to stand for this sort of thing, and let kids know how ugly hate crimes are," he said.

Bill Wassmuth, director of the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, said reports of hate crimes against minorities in suburbs are uncommon. But he fears the growing diversity of suburbs could lead to other such incidents.

Wassmuth said 50 percent of all hate crimes are considered juvenile pranks and the remainder often are committed by white-supremacist groups.

In the Maple Valley cross-burning last week, David Kenneth Talley was arrested and charged with malicious harassment. Police said Talley, 19, the head of a white-supremacist skinhead group, set the cross on fire to frighten away a family of mixed racial background who were planning to buy a house next door.

Talley yesterday pleaded not guilty to six counts of malicious harassment. He was released from the King County Jail after a judge cut his bail from $100,000 to $25,000.

King County Superior Court Judge Robert Dixon ordered Talley to live away from the home where the cross-burning occurred and to stay away from the family.

Dixon approved Talley's new home for now - the residence of a cousin, Dusty Wood, at an undisclosed site. Wood staunchly defended Talley, saying the cross-burning was a bonfire.

Prosecutors contend in the charges that Talley became enraged when he saw the couple arrive at the house they hoped to buy. Talley then built a cross and set it ablaze, the charges state.

The would-be buyers - Phillip Smith, who is black, and his wife, Renee, who is white - have decided not to purchase the house, prosecutors said.

Wood said after the court hearing that Talley has renounced the lifestyle of the skinhead group, the Northern Aryan Skin Heads (NASH). Deputy Prosecutor Michael Hogan said Talley is the organization's president.

King County Detective Mark Toner said that when he and another detective arrested Talley they saw swastika drawings and other white-supremacist objects in the home.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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