ashland.news
May 23, 2024

‘Call for justice’: Rally speakers decry murder acquittal, call for judge to impose maximum sentence for killing Aidan Ellison

Ashland High School Senior 'Truth to Power' club member Amy Preskenis - Perrin. Drew Fleming photo for Ashland.news
May 10, 2023

Sentencing of Robert Keegan on manslaughter, other charges due Friday in Medford

By Debora Gordon and Holly Dillemuth for Ashland.news

A crowd of about 50 people gathered on Ashland Plaza on Wednesday to protest the acquittal Monday of Robert Paul Keegan, a 50-year-old white man, of second-degree murder charges in the 2020 killing of Aidan Ellison, a 19-year-old Black man. Keegan faces sentencing Friday in Medford on a lesser charge, first-degree manslaughter, and other charges.

Rally attendees felt Keegan should have been found guilty of murder and called for the maximum sentence possible to be handed down for manslaughter. The murder charge carries a mandatory life sentence, with the possibility of parole after 25 years. The minimum sentence for first-degree manslaughter is 10 years in prison.

Wendy Wysong Leighton speaks as others hold up signs behind her. Drew Fleming photo for Ashland.news

“Nothing about Aidan’s murder can ever be made right, or fair, or OK,” Ashland High School Truth to Power club member Amy Preskenis Perrin said in a rally announcement. “What we call for is justice; a recognition of what Keegan did and punishment for his actions. Without punishment for murder, for stealing an innocent life, this conviction isn’t justice.”

“I ask for the maximum sentencing for Keegan,” Ashland City Councilor Gina DuQuenne said, also in the rally news release issued by the Ashland Together organization. “Aidan is dead forever.”

“Our main message is justice for Aidan,” DuQuenne said at the rally. “When it comes time for sentencing, we are demanding and requesting the maximum amount of sentencing and for him to serve that sentencing consecutively, because Aidan is dead forever. And Aidan’s mom has a life sentence of never seeing her son again; so, to get justice for Aidan is why we are here, and that’s our request, our hope, our prayer.”

DuQuenne appealed to the crowd’s sense of grief and outrage. “All of us this is in support of Aidan’s family. We will not allow this to happen again,” she said. “We are not going to sit around and allow young 19-year-old lives to be taken. Aidan was doing what 19-year-old boys do; that’s what they do. My heart goes out, as a mother, of black children, and grandchildren. My heart goes out to Aidan’s family … There is no reason why Keegan should be able to take a breath of freedom, not now, not for a very long time.”

DuQuenne encouraged listeners to write handwritten letters for deliver to the judge who will sentence Keegan.

Cassie Preskenis, left, holds up a sign saying “Demand Accountability” as Ashland City Councilor Gina DuQuenne speaks at Wednesday’s rally. Drew Fleming photo for Ashland.news

Another speaker, Jamie Powell, addressed the crowd, saying “racism is a white-bodied problem. As we look at Robert Keegan and press for a maximum sentence, know that the work is only just beginning, within ourselves as white-bodied people; I’m talking to the white-bodied people around me right now, this is our disease. We are the ones that can help to heal that and it doesn’t happen in isolation.”

“Aidan’s mom has the maximum sentencing,” DuQuenne added. “She will never see her son again. Aidan will never be able to walk his dog. Aidan will never be a dad; Aidan will never have a full life. Aidan will never be able to be a grandfather. Aidan will never be able to experience life because he is gone. And he’s never coming back. We demand maximum sentencing consecutively, and no time off (for time already served). This man has been sitting in the cushy county courthouse for two-and-a-half years. He needs to feel the true brunt of the penal system. We demand justice for Aidan now!”

The crowd repeated DuQuenne’s concluding cry for justice three times, then the rally came to a close with two choruses of the song “We shall overcome” — but this time asking not just to overcome “someday,” but “how about today?”

From left, Ashland High School teacher Shane Abrams, D.L. Richardson and Gina DuQuenne talk at Wednesday’s rally. Drew Fleming photo for Ashland.news
‘How is that not murder?’

D.L. Richardson, an officer with Black Southern Oregon Alliance, was in attendance at the rally Wednesday afternoon on the Plaza. Ashland.news spoke to him by phone prior to the gathering about his response to Monday’s verdict. 

Robert Paul Keegan, 50, was found not guilty of the second-degree murder charge on an 11-1 vote by a jury that was white, as reported by the Rogue Valley Times. Second-degree murder is defined as the killing of another human being without premeditation, but with intent. The charge can also refer to a death caused by an individual’s neglect or reckless conduct.

“I have not calmed down, I’m still upset about it,” Richardson, who also serves as a board member of Ashland.news, said of his response to the verdict. 

“I am outraged,” he added later in the interview. “I think it’s clearly ridiculous that this person is only facing manslaughter.” 

Richardson said he feels the manslaughter charge is “cavalier,” and sees a minimum sentence of 10 years as “not even a slap on the hand.”

“This guy’s going to be able to see his son every week or whatever visiting times are,” Richardson said. “He’s going to be able to see his child grow up. Aidan’s mother is not going to be able to say that. Aidan’s not going to have that opportunity, and it’s just so frustrating in that sense.”

Richardson sees the verdict as “blatant disregard” for Black person’s life.

In front, Josh Willow and Brady Rubin at Wednesday’s rally. Drew Fleming photo for Ashland.news

Richardson said it’s also frustrating that Black parents and guardians tell children, “We’re there to protect them, yet the system does not. How does that work?”

It’s also frustrating personally for Richardson, a Black man who grew up in the South following the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

“I had to deal with the things that were the repercussions of what was going on with the Civil Rights Movement in the South,” Richardson said. “To have that verdict come down, I just don’t understand.”

Richardson believes if the tables were turned and Ellison was standing trial as a Black man, he wondered if Ellison would face a second-degree murder charge — or worse.

“That’s just the way the system seems to be for us,” Richardson said. “And so, again, how do you keep hope … in these students lives, these students of color, when they see the opposite of what’s going on in the world itself, and specifically in Southern Oregon, in Ashland.”

Richardson said when he first heard of the verdict Monday, his thoughts went back to last month.

He helps organize the Black Youth Leadership Summit at Southern Oregon University, an event that returned this year to campus for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic. The gathering brought Black students to SOU.

“We had 230 African American students … in one room in Southern Oregon,” Richardson told Ashland.news on Wednesday. “That’s history in itself. I doubt that’s ever happened before, and as I go off of that major high, that excitement level to now, less than a month later, having the justice system tell those kids, as far as I’m concerned, an African-American person does not matter. That anyone can do whatever they want to you and it does not matter. 

Rally attendees hold up signs and tend to children as they listen to speakers Wednesday. Drew Fleming photo for Ashland.news

“In my brain, when someone walks away from a fight or from an argument, they go to their room, they pick up a weapon, a gun, they come back and they shoot a person, they kill that person … how is that not murder?” he asked. “How do I help these kids, who were full of hope, all of a sudden realize again that their life does not hold the same amount of value as so many other lives? How do we stop that? How do we not have that happen?”

Richardson responded to the FBI’s determination, as reported by the Rogue Valley Times, that race was not a factor in the case.

“I don’t understand how anyone would say that,” Richardson said. “I would definitely disagree with the federal government in that sense, them saying it had nothing to do with race.”

Debora Gordon, a writer, artist, educator and non-violence activist who recently moved to Ashland from Oakland, California, reported from the rally. Holly Dillemuth, a reporter for Ashland.news, reported on her interview with D.L. Richardson. Email her at hollyd@ashland.news. Email Ashland.news Executive Editor Bert Etling at betling@ashland.news or call or text him at 541-631-1313.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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