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Trial underway in Medford for 2020 killing of Aidan Ellison

Robert Paul Keegan awaits the start of his trial on May 2, 2023.
Jane Vaughan
Robert Paul Keegan awaits the start of his trial on May 2, 2023.

Robert Paul Keegan, 50, has been charged with shooting Ellison, 19, on Nov. 23, 2020.

On Tuesday, lawyers made their opening statements in the case at the Jackson County Circuit Court in Medford.

Keegan, who is white, was 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.

Prosecution describes heated exchange leading to shooting

State prosecuting attorney Samantha Olson began by laying out the interaction between the two men, which occurred at about 4 a.m. while both were living at the Stratford Inn in Ashland.

Olson described how Ellison had gone to the parking lot, where he was drinking and listening to music in his friend's car. Keegan opened his hotel room window and yelled down to Ellison "in a little bit of a heated manner" to turn off the music. Keegan, upset, grabbed his firearm and headed to the lobby to complain to the hotel clerk, Angel Carlin.

Keegan went outside to talk to Ellison. After Ellison called Keegan the N-word and Keegan protested, Ellison "throws a swing" at Keegan, and a scuffle ensued, culminating in Keegan shooting Ellison. Ellison fled and was later found dead nearby.

The Jackson County Justice Building in Medford, Ore., where Robert Paul Keegan is being tried.
Jane Vaughan
The Jackson County Justice Building in Medford, Ore., where Robert Paul Keegan is being tried.

Defense calls Keegan 'the fall guy'

As Keegan sat quietly in the courtroom, defense attorney Clint Oborn described the importance of looking at the case from multiple perspectives. In his opening statement, he discussed the incident through the eyes of both Keegan’s 9-year-old son Paul and the hotel clerk Carlin.

Oborn said repeatedly that “something was off” with Ellison, describing him as homeless, broke and couch surfing, at one point going so far as to hold up a large bottle of Moscato as a prop when he said that Ellison was holding a half-consumed large bottle of wine that night. Oborn claimed the Ashland Police Department had "jumped to conclusions based on race concerns" and Keegan was "the fall guy."

The trial continued with witness examination of Ashland Police Officers Carson Waller and Riley Gomes, who were some of the first officers on the scene that night. The prosecution presented Officer Waller's body camera footage from the night of the shooting.

Members of Ellison's family were also present in the courtroom on Tuesday.

Keegan’s 12-person jury trial is scheduled to last two weeks. He faces the possibility of life in prison. The case is being heard by Circuit Court Judge Timothy Barnack.

A shooting that shocked the Rogue Valley

Ellison’s death two-and-a-half years ago shocked residents of the Rogue Valley and drew comparisons to other young Black men killed across the country. His killing took place six months after George Floyd's murder, which sparked global protests about racial justice and police brutality.

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.

Keegan himself was displaced by the fire and as a result was living at the Stratford Inn with his son at the time of the incident. It has been widely reported that Ellison lost his job at Burger King due to the fire. At the time of the incident, he was also living at the inn with a friend.

Jane Vaughan is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. Jane began her journalism career as a reporter for a community newspaper in Portland, Maine. She's been a producer at New Hampshire Public Radio and worked on WNYC's On The Media.