On Monday, a 12-person jury trial will begin in Jackson County Circuit Court in Medford as the state prosecutes Robert Paul Keegan. The trial will review events from two and a half years ago when the shooting death of Aidan Ellison shocked residents of the Rogue Valley and drew comparisons to other young Black men killed around the country. Here are the key questions ahead of the trial.
What happened on the morning of Nov. 23, 2020?
According to the affidavit, Keegan was awakened at 4 a.m. by loud music coming from the hotel parking lot at the Stratford Inn in Ashland. He asked Ellison to turn his music down, but Ellison refused. Keegan complained to the hotel clerk, Angel Carlin, who then went to speak with Ellison. Keegan confronted Ellison, and the two argued, culminating in Keegan shooting Ellison in the chest using a semi-automatic handgun and killing him.
What has Keegan been charged with?
Keegan was charged with second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter, unlawful possession of a firearm and recklessly endangering another person (the hotel clerk, who was standing nearby when Ellison was killed). He has pled not guilty to all charges.
What does the prosecution say?
The case is being prosecuted by Jackson County Deputy District Attorney Benjamin Lull. The charges allege that Keegan “did unlawfully and intentionally” cause Ellison’s death “under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.” They also allege he “unlawfully and knowingly” carried his gun while concealed, and he “did unlawfully and recklessly create a substantial risk of serious physical injury to Angel Carlin.”
What does the defense say?
Keegan is being defended by Public Defender Alyssa Bartholomew. Keegan says Ellison struck him in the face, and he shot him because he feared for his physical safety. However, an autopsy revealed no injuries to Ellison’s hands or Keegan’s face that would have been indicative of punches.
What might be the results of this trial?
The trial is scheduled to last two weeks. The case will be heard by Circuit Court Judge Timothy Barnack. Keegan faces a sentence of life imprisonment for murder in the second degree. First-degree manslaughter is a Class A felony in Oregon, so he faces up to 20 years in prison and up to $375,000 in fines. Both unlawful possession of a firearm and recklessly endangering another person are Class A misdemeanors in Oregon, so he faces a maximum possible penalty of 364 days in jail and a fine up to $6,250 for each of those charges.
What are the implications of this trial?
November 2020 was an especially fraught time in the Rogue Valley. The world was in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Almeda Fire had recently caused widespread destruction in the valley, particularly in Phoenix and Talent. It has been widely reported that Keegan himself was displaced by the fire and was living at the Stratford Inn with his son as a result. It has also been reported that Ellison lost his job at Burger King due to the fire.
Ellison’s killing also took place six months after George Floyd’s murder, which sparked global protests about racial justice and police brutality. Keegan is white, and Ellison was Black. His death was covered by a variety of national outlets, including NPR and The New York Times.
In a statement at the time, the Southern Oregon Black Leaders, Activists, And Community Coalition said, “To be clear Aidan was murdered because he was a young Black person who made a white man uncomfortable and refused to submit to that man’s personally-perceived authority- not because he was listening to music too loudly.”
In a statement released at the time by Ellison’s mother Andrea Wofford, his family said, “What can be said about this teenager who was full of spirit? He was just getting started on his lifelong journey when he was taken from us. Enough is enough. How many Black men have to die before this community takes hate crimes seriously?”