Talent man pleads not guilty in killing of Black teenager in Ashland hotel parking lot

A Talent man pleaded not guilty Friday to a murder charge stemming from the shooting death of a Black teenager Nov. 23 in the parking lot of an Ashland hotel, the Jackson County District Attorney’s office said.

Robert Keegan, 47, pleaded not guilty to four criminal counts at his arraignment, including second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter, reckless endangering and unlawful possession of a weapon. Keegan is being held in custody without bail until his next court date Feb. 22, 2021, officials said.

Keegan is accused of shooting 19-year-old Aidan Ellison in the chest and killing him in the parking lot of the hotel where they were both staying as guests.

Ashland and Phoenix police responded to reports of a shooting in the parking lot of Stratford Inn at around 4:20 a.m. When officers arrived, they found Ellison dead with a single gunshot wound to his chest.

Keegan, who was still at the scene, was arrested and taken to Jackson County Jail, officials said.

According to Ashland police, Keegan and Ellison, who did not know each other, were arguing when Keegan took a gun out of his coat and fired a single shot at Ellison’s chest. Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara said in a since-deleted statement on Facebook that the pair were arguing about Ellison playing loud music in the parking lot. O’Meara later posted a clarification to his statement on Ashland Police’s Facebook page Thursday.

“The only thing that caused this murder was suspect’s actions, 100%. It is completely immaterial what led up to it,” O’Meara wrote. “Yes, there was an argument over music, no, this did not happen because of loud music, it happened because the suspect chose to bring a gun with him and chose to use it, 100% on him, not the poor young man that was murdered.”

The shooting drew condemnation from Southern Oregon’s Black community, which raised concerns about the area’s culture and history of white supremacy.

“The murder of Aidan Ellison is another example of Southern Oregon’s racist history with and current practice of white supremacy,” wrote Southern Oregon Black Leaders, Activists and Community Coalition in a statement. “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.”

SOBLACC has planned a meeting for Dec. 7, inviting Black people living in Southern Oregon to come together and discuss priorities for their community.

A candlelit vigil to remember Ellison was held at the Stratford Inn parking lot Thursday night. According to KOBI-TV in Medford, Southern Oregon activists are planning a rally Dec. 2 at the Jackson County Courthouse.

Gun control advocacy group Oregon Moms Demand Action released a statement Saturday highlighting a 2020 statistic showing Black Oregonians are dying of gun homicide at five times the rate of white Oregonians.

“We’re horrified,” said Amie Wexler, a volunteer with gun control advocacy group Oregon Moms Demand Action, said in a statement Saturday. “Aidan Ellison should be alive today. Instead, another family is in mourning, and the country is learning the name of yet another Black teenager who didn’t get the chance to grow up.”

— Catalina Gaitán; @catalinagaitan_

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