The pro-Palestinian professor charged in the death of a 69-year-old Jewish dad in a scuffle during a street protest in California earlier this month could still face hate-crime charges, authorities said Friday.
“We have not ruled out a hate crime. The investigation into an alleged hate crime is still ongoing. There are outstanding search warrants, but at this moment in time, we do not have the elements of a hate crime satisfied, thus we cannot charge it in this criminal document,” said Ventura County DA Erik Nasarenko at a news conference Friday.
But Nasarenko said that either way, the two felony counts slapped against suspect Loay Abdelfattah Alnaji — involuntary manslaughter and battery causing serious bodily injury — would count as two strikes against him under California’s three-strikes law if he is convicted.
It was not immediately clear whether Alnaji, 50, has any previous “strikes” on his record. If he does, and he is convicted of the two current charges, he would face a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years to life behind bars, according to state law.
Alnaji, who teaches computer science at Moorpark College, is charged in the death of Paul Kessler, who died of a head injury he sustained while counter-protesting a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 5.
Nasarenko said his office declined to file murder charges because the evidence did not support a conclusion that Alnaji deliberately killed Kessler, a married father had worked in medical sales and as a college professor and was a pilot.
“We received no evidence, no statements, no information whatsoever that the defendant arrived at that intersection with the intent to kill, harm, or injure anyone,” the DA said.
Nasarenko said investigators had so far interviewed more than 60 witnesses and reviewed over 600 pieces of evidence. He acknowledged the difficulty in charging a case like this given the “disparate, often conflicting interpretations and statements,” as well as the “fragmentary nature of the evidence.”
But using the extensive physical and forensic evidence in the case, the DA’s office was able to “establish a clear sequence of events leading up to the confrontation,” helped along also by video and digital imagery captured at the scene, Nasarenko said.
“These new pieces of evidence as well as the technology we utilized has permitted our office to file these criminal charges,” he said. “Our task was to search for the truth and to achieve clarity in this case, and that is what we have done.”
Nasarenko said he had a virtual meeting with Kessler’s family Thursday for approximately 30 minutes.
“They are mourning, they are grieving, and they are asking for privacy during this very difficult period,” he said.
In his remarks to reporters, Nasarenko painted a picture of Kessler as a hard worker and dedicated family man.
“Paul Kessler worked in medical sales for a number of decades. He also taught sales and marketing at a number of satellite college campuses. He was also a pilot. He was married for 43 years. He also leaves behind a son.
“We want to continue to remember and honor Paul Kessler and the tragic loss of life that occurred,” Nasarenko said.
Alnaji, who has posted pro-Palestinian messages on his personal social media accounts, was arrested at his home in Moorpark “without incident” early Thursday morning and held on a $1 million bond.
He is scheduled to be arraigned Friday afternoon.