Authorities sifted through 600 pieces of evidence and spoke to 60 witnesses before charging a college professor with two counts of allegedly fatally wounding a Jewish protester during a pro-Israel and Palestinian rally in California this month.
Ventura County District Attorney Eric Nazarenko said at a news conference Friday that the investigation into the death of anti-Semitism Paul Kessler, 69, was complicated and ultimately led to felony charges of involuntary manslaughter and battery causing serious bodily injury against Loye Abdelfattah Alnaji. – Age Moorpark College Professor of Computer Science.
“Our task is to find the truth and clarify this case, and that’s what we’ve done,” Nazarenko told a news conference. “This is not an easy endeavor, given the disparate, often conflicting interpretations and reports and the fragmented nature of the evidence.”
Nazarenko said the special charges that he personally inflicted great bodily injury, a type of enhancement, would have made Alnaji eligible for prison under California’s three strikes law.
He said investigators collected video and digital footage to “establish a clear sequence of events leading up to the confrontation” between the two, Nazarenko said.
He said investigators determined there was no intent to kill the suspect and that investigators had not met legal thresholds to determine whether a hate crime had occurred, but it was still being investigated.
“Simply put, when we look at the statements and the words that accompany the action, we can’t meet the elements of a hate crime at this time,” Nazarenko said.
He said investigators were looking into whether the suspect’s actions were accompanied by words expressing hate speech, “antipathy” or “hatred against a particular group.”
Alnaji, of Moorpark, was taken into custody Thursday morning and is expected to be arraigned Friday afternoon.
The charges stem from an alleged confrontation on Nov. 5 at pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian rallies in Thousand Oaks, California. Kessler got into a “physical altercation” with a pro-Palestinian protester. The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said At the time. He fell backwards and hit his head on the floor and died the next day.
After Kessler’s death, investigators said it was difficult to piece together what happened because of “conflicting statements” from witnesses. The sheriff’s office previously said a “suspicious person” remained at the scene and called 911 for medical assistance.
An autopsy determined Kessler’s cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head and the manner of death was homicide. The fatal injury was “an impact to the back of the head from Mr. Kessler falling to the ground and hitting his head,” Ventura County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Christopher Young previously said.
Nazarenko and Ventura County Sheriff Jim Fryhoff attended a media conference Friday and almost met with Kessler’s family on Thursday, Nazarenko said.
The Kesslers are grieving, Nazarenko said, and are asking for privacy. Kessler worked in medical sales for decades, taught sales and marketing at satellite colleges, was a pilot and was married for 43 years, Nazarenko said. Kessler also had a son, Nazarenko said.
“We want to continue to remember Paul Kessler and the tragic loss of life that occurred,” Nazarenko said.
Kessler’s death came against a backdrop of heightened tensions in the US over the Israel-Hamas war and a rise in anti-Semitic and Islamophobic incidents.
Fighting erupted after Hamas’s incursion on October 7. Israel estimates that 1,200 people were killed in the attack, with 239 still being held hostage in Gaza. Meanwhile, Gaza health officials say weeks of Israeli bombardment of the besieged and impoverished enclave have killed 11,500 Palestinians, including thousands of children, and displaced more than 1.6 million people.