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Prosecutors explain reasoning behind charges filed against man arrested for pro-Israel protester's death

Prosecutors explain details in charges filed against man connected to death of pro-Israel protestor
Prosecutors explain details in charges filed against man connected to death of pro-Israel protestor 02:40

Ventura County prosecutors on Friday announced new details surrounding the charges filed against a man who was recently arrested in connection with the death of a 69-year-old pro-Israel protester. 

"It is important to note that when we approached this process, we approached it with an open mind," said Ventura County District Attorney Erik Nasarenko during the Friday's press conference. "We were not pre-committed to any specific outcome, or even criminal culpability and we never treated the fact that criminal charges would be a foregone conclusion."

Loay Abdelfattah Alnaji, 50, was arrested at his Moorpark home early Thursday and is being held on $1 million bail, according to the Ventura County Sheriff's Department. 

Alnaji, a professor at Moorpark College, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and battery causing serious bodily injury, which are both felonies. Additionally, both charges carry special allegations that Alnaji personally inflicted great bodily injury, prosecutors said.

"The significance of the special allegations is that they elevate these offenses to strikes under California's 'Three Strikes' law," Nasarenko said. "Which makes punishment prison eligible."

Alnaji was arrested for his involvement in an alleged fight that broke out during a dueling protest over the Israel-Hamas conflict in Thousand Oaks in early November, which resulted in the death of 69-year-old Jewish man Paul Kessler.

"To be sure, 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," Nasarenko said. "But, nevertheless, as the charging document sets forward it is alleged that he committed involuntary manslaughter, specifically that he killed another with criminal negligence, specifically reckless conduct that carried with it a high risk of death or great bodily injury and that a reasonable person would have expected and appreciated this risk."

The alleged battery happened at around 3:20 p.m. on Nov. 5 near the intersection of Westlake Boulevard and Thousand Oaks Boulevard, where pro-Israel protesters including Kessler, and pro-Palestinian protesters including Alnaji were rallying for their respective causes. 

Related: Jewish protester's death in LA area remains under investigation as eyewitness accounts conflict

Witnesses tell investigators that a man struck Kessler, who then fell and hit his head on the ground. He was taken to a nearby hospital where he died from his injuries the next day. 

The Ventura County Medical Examiner's Office classified his death as a homicide. 

During the course of their ongoing investigation, Nasarenko says that investigators have interviewed more than 60 witnesses and reviewed over 600 pieces of evidence. 

Sheriff's investigators say they obtained video evidence that shows a clear sequence of events leading up to the confrontation between Kessler and Alnaji. 

"This was not an easy undertaking, given the disparate, often conflicting interpretations and statements and also the fragmentary nature of the evidence," he said. "But, nevertheless, working closely with our sheriff detectives, additional important pieces of information came forward. Specifically in filing these charges we relied upon new physical and forensic evidence as well as findings regarding the injuries to the left side of Paul Kessler's face."

The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles released a statement shortly after the incident, saying that Kessler was was "struck in the head by a megaphone wielding pro-Palestinian protester."

Nasarenko said that prosecutors did not file murder charges due to the lack of intent on Alnaji's part and that they "did not fie a hate crime at this time, although that investigation is ongoing."

Alnaji is scheduled for arraignment in Ventura County court on Friday afternoon.

Authorities continue to investigate the incident and ask anyone with information to contact the sheriff's office at (805) 384-4745. Anonymous tips can be submitted to Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-8477.

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