Prosecutors and defense attorneys in Bend are differing views on one key question: Was a suspect acting in self-defense when he shot and killed Barry Washington Jr., an unarmed 22-year-old Black man, in 2021?
Both sides made their opening statements Thursday, as the long awaited trial against Ian Cranston, a 27-year-old white man accused of killing Washington, got underway. Washington’s death led to uproar across Central Oregon.
Cranston faces six separate charges stemming from the shooting: second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter, first-degree assault and two counts of unlawful use of a weapon. He pleaded not guilty to all counts.
The start of the trial comes more than a year after Cranston allegedly shot and killed Washington outside the Capitol Bar in downtown Bend in late 2021.
Prosecutors said the two got into an argument after Washington repeatedly showed interest in Cranston’s fiancée. Prosecutors claim that outside the bar the confrontation turned violent as Washington punched Cranston twice in the head. Cranston allegedly pulled out his handgun and, nearly 30 seconds later, shot Washington in the torso, killing him.
Prosecutors portrayed Cranston’s actions as rooted in revenge and that his pride had been damaged after Washington punched him.
“Pride has been called the worst [sin], because as we know pride leads to all the other deadly sins,” Deputy District Attorney J. Michael Swart told jurors. “In this case, it led to murder.”
In particular, he emphasized the nearly 30 seconds between the moment Washington punched Cranston and when Cranston is accused of firing the shot. Swart said Cranston was not in imminent danger when Washington, who was unarmed, was fatally shot.
Cranston’s attorney, Kevin Sali, told jurors that Cranston and his friends attempted to deescalate the situation and that Cranston fired his gun only to prevent Washington from punching him again. He also alleged that, in those 30 seconds, Washington punched Cranston’s friend and pushed his fiancée.
While Washington didn’t have a weapon, Sali claimed that Washington was bigger and stronger than Cranston.
“(Cranston) knows it’s the only chance he has to defend himself if this attack continues,” Sali said. “He was doing something the law absolutely allowed him to do.”
The shooting came during a nationwide reckoning with various killings of unarmed Black men across the country. Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel in 2021 called the shooting a “lynching” in response to statements that Washington flirted with Cranston’s fiancée.
“Our country has a disgraceful history of denigrating, prosecuting and lynching black men for talking to white women,” Hummel said at the time.
Washington’s mother, Lawanda Roberson, also said at the time of the shooting that she believes her son would still be alive if he had not been Black.
Washington’s death spurred many protests immediately after the shooting and as Cranston’s trial got underway this week. Protesters have marched around downtown Bend nightly since Tuesday and have promised to do so every night of the trial.
A couple dozen protesters interrupted a Bend City Council meeting Wednesday to confront city councilors about their responses to the shooting, as reported by the Bend Bulletin.
Both sets of attorneys have focused heavily on how political views on race and guns might influence a jury. During selection, attorneys asked jurors if they owned firearms, what their feelings about firearms were and if a white man shooting a black man would inherently sway their opinion one way or the other.
The trial is scheduled to last no more than two weeks.