For a few hours on Friday, defendant Robert Paul Keegan took the stand in Jackson County Circuit Court in his trial for killing Aidan Ellison.
Keegan, who is white, has been charged with second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter, unlawful possession of a firearm and recklessly endangering another person in the death of Ellison, who was Black.
Both were living in the Stratford Inn in Ashland at the time of the shooting. Ellison was playing loud music in the parking lot at about 4 a.m. on Nov. 23, 2020. Keegan yelled down from his window to turn it off. Ellison yelled back, and Keegan went downstairs to complain to the front desk clerk, bringing his gun in his jacket. While the clerk was speaking with Ellison, Keegan went outside, and a scuffle ensued, culminating in Keegan shooting Ellison, who fled and was later found dead nearby.
On Friday, public defender Alyssa Bartholomew, who is representing Keegan, highlighted in her questioning of him that his home in Talent burned down in the 2020 Almeda Fire. She discussed Keegan’s role as a single dad to his son Paul during the COVID pandemic. Whenever Paul was mentioned, Keegan choked up, saying that they’re “very close” and that they video chat every day.
Bartholomew also asked him about his disability. Keegan uses a wheelchair and testified that he has trouble climbing stairs, back pain and radiating pain and tingling down one of his arms.
Keegan testified that his temporary home at the Stratford Inn “wasn’t a safe place.” He cited one incident where someone pulled a knife on him and a later worrying incident with another person in the hotel lobby with a hammer. He said the second incident led him to purchase a gun on Nov. 11 “to protect myself and my son.”
Bartholomew also highlighted in her questioning that Keegan did not pull his gun out of his jacket pocket that night until Ellison, as he said, “was charging at me.”
Keegan testified that when he pulled the trigger, he did not want to hit Ellison.
“I was just in such fear and my son was, not knowing what would happen to him if something happened to me,” he said.
When Bartholomew asked about his reaction once he learned Ellison had died, Keegan broke down, calling it “the worst day of my life.”
When Deputy District Attorney Benjamin Lull cross-examined Keegan on behalf of the state, he pointed out that Keegan did not bring his cane downstairs with him that night, despite his disability.
He also highlighted multiple discrepancies between Keegan’s testimony on Friday and his initial interview with detectives after the shooting. For example, on Friday Keegan testified that he went out to the hotel parking lot that night to smoke a cigarette, while Lull cited Keegan’s detective interview from 2020, where he said he had gone outside to make sure the hotel clerk had handled the situation right.
Lull asked Keegan about his intent when he left his hotel room that night. He had previously testified in the detective interview that he was planning to go talk to Ellison, while he testified on Friday that he was just going to complain to the clerk.
Lull also brought up that in Keegan’s interview with detectives, he had discussed the possibility of a confrontation with Ellison that night and brought his pistol in case things got out of hand, which he did not mention during his testimony on Friday.
Lull pushed Keegan on why he did not just return his gun to his hotel room when he realized it was in his jacket pocket, which happened just outside his door as he put the jacket on.
When asked which of his testimonies was more accurate, Friday’s or the one from the detective interview, Keegan said, “Today is more accurate.”
“Because two years have gone by?” Lull asked.
Keegan’s 12-person jury trial began on Monday and is scheduled to last two weeks. On May 8, both sides will make closing statements, and jury deliberation will begin. Keegan faces the possibility of life in prison.