ASHLAND, Ore. — Local activists say 19-year-old Aidan Ellison was murdered on November 23rd because of his race.
The Ashland High School graduate was shot and killed last week by 47-year old Robert Paul Keegan.
Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara said earlier this week APD didn’t have sufficient evidence to prove it was a hate crime, but it was investigating.
“We can’t see into the suspect’s head,” said Chief O’Meara.
On Thursday, Ashland Police announced the FBI is assisting in the case to see if it was a bias crime.
But proving that, according to Josephine County District Attorney Josh Eastman, is no easy feat.
“Unless that evidence is pretty clear, it’s a difficult burden for us to reach,” he said.
Eastman has no involvement in the Ellison case, but says the burden of proof in Oregon has to be beyond a reasonable doubt for criminal cases.
That’s the highest burden in the legal system.
“If you have a puzzle. You don’t have to have every piece,” said Eastman. “But you have to have enough pieces to be honestly certain what it is.”
However, Eastman says in a hate or bias case, the burden of proof is even higher because you also have to prove motivation.
“Like a regular assault is intentionally caused injury. But this would be intentionally caused injury because of race, gender, sexual orientation etc.,” said Eastman.
As an example, Eastman says even if a person had a history of joining racist organizations or even writing racist profanities on social media, it may not necessarily be motivation for why the person committed the crime in that moment.
The Portland office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation declined to comment Thursday about hate crime investigations.
A spokeswoman for the FBI says the agency is aware of the incident in Ashland and is in regular contact with local authorities.
Amanda Rose is a multimedia journalist for NBC5 News. Amanda graduated from Columbia University earning a Master’s degree in Journalism. She also received a Bachelor’s degree in English with a specialization in literature from the University of British Columbia.
She’s a Los Angeles native, but is thrilled to return to the beautiful Pacific Northwest and is passionate about reporting on the criminal justice system.