Prosecutor, defense attorney offer opening arguments in murder trial of Robert Keegan
Two-and-a-half years after 19-year-old Aidan Ellison, a Black man, was killed in the parking lot of an Ashland hotel, Robert Paul Keegan, a white man accused of shooting Ellison to death, faced a jury Tuesday in what marked the first day of one of the Rogue Valley’s most highly anticipated criminal trials.
Keegan, 49, faces charges of second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter and unlawful possession of a firearm for allegedly shooting Ellison outside the Stratford Inn on Nov. 23, 2020.
Keegan, dressed in a suit and tie for the proceedings, was seated in a wheelchair Tuesday in a Medford courtroom. The jury was selected Monday.
In her opening statement Tuesday, Deputy District Attorney Samantha Olson told jurors that, in the fall of 2020, the Stratford Inn was a place that took in residents who lost their homes in the Almeda Fire.
On Nov. 23, Keegan was staying at the hotel with his 11-year-old son, Paul, while Ellison was staying with a former co-worker.
Around 4 a.m. that day, Keegan and Ellison got into an argument about loud music. Keegan was in his room, while Ellison was in his roommate’s car in the parking lot, drinking and listening to music, Olson said.
“That woke (Keegan) up in the middle of the night — nobody’s favorite thing,” Olson said.
Keegan opened his window and started yelling at Ellison to turn the music down — but it did not stop, Olson said.
“Robert is upset; he decides to grab a firearm, put his jacket on, go downstairs and talk to the hotel clerk,” Olson said.
In the hotel lobby, Keegan told the clerk, Angel Carlin, “(Ellison has) got to stop,” according to Olson. Carlin then went to the parking lot to talk to Ellison.
“As they’re wrapping that conversation up, Robert feels like it really didn’t go the way he wanted,” Olson said.
Keegan waited in the hotel, hoping Ellison would come through. But as the discussion between Carlin and Ellison continued, Keegan made the decision to go out to the parking lot, the prosecutor said.
“At some point during the conversation, Aidan calls Robert the N-word,” Olson said. “Which Robert responds, ‘I am not the N-word.'”
Ellison then threw punches at Keegan, and Carlin watched “a scuffle” between the two men, Olson told the jurors.
“At some point, Robert just pulled out the gun and shot Aidan,” Olson said.
Ellison then “takes off,” and no one knew where he went, according to Olson. His body was later found in some bushes in the parking lot.
Carlin called 911, while Keegan went back to his room and told his son, “The cops are coming; we’ve got to go downstairs,” Olson said.
Keegan had two lawyers in court Tuesday, Clint Oborn and Alyssa Bartholomew, but it was Oborn who gave the defense’s opening statement, which was at times emotional.
Oborn said that on the day of the shooting, Ellison was homeless, broke and upset for losing multiple jobs in the last several months. He stayed at the Stratford Inn at the invitation of a former colleague, Sarah Jones.
“Mr. Ellison had trust issues; something was off about him,” Oborn said.
That night, the teenager was in and out of his room at the hotel, smoking, drinking, and in his car listening to loud music, “High and drunk,” according to Oborn.
Around 4:30 a.m., Ellison was “bumping his music” and “downing his wine” with a Ziploc bag full of weed, Oborn told jurors. And then, Keegan said “please turn down the music” before Ellison responded “F–k you! Come down here and I’ll kick your a–!” Oborn told jurors.
When the music didn’t stop, Oborn said, Keegan came down from his room and confronted the front desk clerk about the loud music.
When Keegan confronted Ellison, the teenager allegedly told him, “shut the F–k up, you n–ger! I’ll kick your ass!”
Oborn said Keegan responded, “I’m not a n–ger” before a scuffle ensued.
“At that point, it’s on — charge!” — and Ellison pushed Carlin out of the way to pursue Keegan, Oborn told jurors.
Ellison tackled Keegan and was “swinging, charging” at the older man. The scuffle moved across the parking lot.
“(Ellison) swings, boom!” Oborn said.
Oborn said Keegan was arrested by police before he could finish telling his story.
Oborn told jurors that throughout the trial they will likely hear about an Ashland Police Department that was “hyper-vigilant in the midst of a COVID-ridden, post-George Floyd world.”
Oborn was referring to the Minnesota man who was murdered after Minneapolis police Officer Derek Michael Chauvin knelt on his neck for nine minutes in 2020. Chauvin was convicted and sentenced to prison in 2021, but in between Floyd’s death and Chauvin’s conviction, a summer of protests on race and police accountability ensued throughout the U.S.
Oborn also told jurors he suspected they would hear a lot of information “shot from the hip” in the Keegan trial.
“You’ll see how quickly the Ashland police force and the community jumped to conclusions based on race concerns,” Oborn said. “You will see how the facts are twisted to meet the theories by the district attorney.”
Oborn added, “the state is glad to have Mr. Keegan as the fall guy. … At the end of this, I’ll be asking you to find Mr. Keegan not guilty of these charges presented by the state.”
The prosecution called officers from the Ashland Police Department as witnesses.
The first officer to take the stand, Carson Waller, testified he interviewed Keegan in the inn’s lobby on the night of the shooting. Waller also went up to Ellison’s room to talk to his roommate. Waller exited the inn after the interviews and found Ellison’s lifeless body on its side in some bushes in the parking lot. Jurors saw those unfolding events Monday via Waller’s body camera footage.
The prosecution also called Ashland police Officer Riley Gomes, who testified that he found a shell casing in the parking lot matching the weapon Keegan is alleged to have used.
Both officers, having graduated from the police academy only a few years ago, testified that the Keegan case was their first murder investigation.