The pro-Palestinian professor charged with the death of a 69-year-old Jewish father in a fight during a street protest in California had his bail reduced Friday from $1 million to just $50,000.
The drastic bail reduction came shortly after authorities announced that the suspect, Loay Abedelfattah Alnaji, 50, could still face hate crime charges in the death of Paul Kessler, who died from a head injury. which he suffered while protesting against a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Thousand. Oaks, California, on November 5.
Alnaji, who holds a Jordanian and American passport, was wearing a blue jail uniform when he entered the court, where there were about 25 reporters and several members of his family, including his wife Nada, who appeared distraught.
The suspect, who teaches computer science at Moorpark College, looked briefly at the audience before sitting next to his attorney, Ron Bamieh, who argued that his client was not a flight risk.
“He is an American citizen. He belongs to Ventura County. There is no risk of leakage. He has cooperated with the police,” Bamieh told Alnaji Judge Ryan Wright.
“He has no intention of fleeing. “His family is here, he has three children and a wife for a long time,” the lawyer added.
Loay Alanji in Ventura County Court on Friday.Barbara Davidson/The New York Post
Bamieh also cited Alnaj’s lack of criminal history and implied that his client would be released on his own recognizance if he were not of Middle Eastern descent.
“He has no criminal record. You don’t even have a fine for loud music. What are we doing? If this is Smith Jones, he’d have surgery. [released on his own recognizance]“said the lawyer. “He was protesting for a cause he believed in… He poses no danger to the community.”
Judge Wright set bail at $50,000 and ordered Alnaji, who has pleaded not guilty to two felonies, to surrender his passports.
In an impromptu news conference after the hearing, Bameih said he hopes his client will be able to post bail on Friday, but it could be hours before he is released.
The professor was accused of the death of a 69-year-old Jewish father. AP
The attorney added that there is video evidence that Kessler had been “abusive in the past” toward protesters.
“There are images on social media of him doing obscene things toward protesters,” Bamieh said. “He took the time to learn an Arabic word that means ‘whore’ and shout it at the protesters. The effort and passion with which he hated the people there is clear…. I am sure that Mr. Kessler in his normal life was a good man, but for some reason, and I can think of many, this topic really inflamed him.”
Bamieh claimed videos of Kessler’s fall showed his client was 6 to 8 feet away from the older man when he fell to the pavement.
“Although he may have been pushed or hit by a bullhorn, that is not what caused his fall,” the attorney said of Kessler. “When he fell, my client was about 6 to 8 feet away from him, and that will be the evidence we present when we finally bring this before a judge and jury.”
Alnaji appeared with his attorney, Ron Bamieh.Barbara Davidson/The New York Post
Bamieh added: “Acting like [Alnaji] “There is a risk and threat of him going to Jordan or Kuwait, it’s ridiculous.”
Earlier in the day, the Ventura County District Attorney’s office held a joint press conference to announce that, although the office has so far chosen not to pursue hate crime charges in Kessler’s death, it was still a possibility if new evidence comes to light.
“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 time we do not have the elements of a hate crime satisfied, so we cannot charge him in this criminal document,” Ventura County Prosecutor Erik Nasarenko said at a press conference on Friday.
But Nasarenko said that either way, the two felony charges filed against Alnaji (involuntary manslaughter and assault causing serious bodily injury) would count as two counts against him under California’s three-count law if he is convicted.
Suspect Loay Abdelfattah Alnaji, 50, could still face a hate crime charge.
If a person is convicted of “three strikes” under state law, they receive a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years to life behind bars.
Nasarenko said his office declined to file murder charges because the evidence did not support the conclusion that Alnaji deliberately killed Kessler, a married father who had worked in medical sales and as a college professor and was a pilot.
“We received no evidence, no statement, no information that the defendant came to that intersection with the intent to kill, harm or injure anyone,” the district attorney said.
Nasarenko said investigators had so far interviewed more than 60 witnesses and reviewed more than 600 pieces of evidence. He acknowledged the difficulty of bringing charges in a case like this given the “disparate, often contradictory interpretations and statements,” as well as the “fragmentary nature of the evidence.”
The suspect was charged with two felonies, including involuntary manslaughter, but the district attorney’s office said it did not seek a murder charge because the evidence does not definitively point to an intent to kill.
But using the case’s extensive physical and forensic evidence, the district attorney’s office was able to “establish a clear sequence of events leading up to the confrontation,” also aided by video and digital images captured at the scene, Nasarenko said.
“This new evidence, as well as the technology we used, has allowed our office to pursue these criminal charges,” he said. “Our task was to seek the truth and achieve clarity in this case, and that is what we have done.”
Nasarenko said he had a virtual meeting with Kessler’s family on Thursday for about 30 minutes.
Paul Kessler, 69, died after a fight at a pro-Palestinian rally in Thousand Oaks, California, on November 5. via @buttonslives/Twitter
“They are grieving, they are grieving and asking for privacy during this very difficult period,” he said.
In his remarks to reporters, Nasarenko described Kessler as a hard worker and a dedicated family man.
“Paul Kessler worked in medical sales for several decades. He also taught sales and marketing at several satellite university campuses. He was also a pilot. He was married for 43 years. He also leaves 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.
Alnaji is scheduled to have a preliminary court hearing on December 4.