Trial in shooting death of Oak Harbor teenager set for March 12

The trial will likely involve several expert witnesses and may hinge on the testimony of a young man

The trial of an Oak Harbor man accused of manslaughter in the 2022 death of 15-year-old Ericolis Kelley is scheduled for March 12, according to court documents.

Eric K. Keo Jr., 19, pleaded not guilty in Island County Superior Court last year to charges of manslaughter in the first degree, assault in the second degree, intimidating a witness and tampering with physical evidence.

The trial will likely involve several expert witnesses and may hinge on the testimony of a young man who received limited immunity from prosecution in exchange for his cooperation. Defense attorneys, however, are already questioning his reliability as a witness.

Keo is accused of shooting Kelley while recklessly playing with a gun and pointing it at his friends on Aug. 30, 2022, according to a report by a detective with the Oak Harbor Police Department. Keo asked Kelley if he believed in God and pulled the trigger as the high school student answered, the detective wrote. The report and charging document indicates that Keo did not intend to shoot his friend but that his reckless actions caused the tragedy.

Keo is being held in Island County jail in lieu of a $50,000 bail bond.

Keven Deese is a key witness in the case. Deese was allegedly at the shooting and starting driving Kelley to the hospital, but he flagged down an ambulance for help on the way. Kelley, however, succumbed to the injury, according to court records.

While detectives were investigating the shooting, police arrested Deese in a separate incident in which he allegedly threatened a manager at the Dairy Queen, according to court documents.

Before Keo was charged, police and prosecutors interviewed Deese under a cooperative agreement that granted him limited immunity in relation to the shooting. In addition, the charges against Deese in the Dairy Queen case will be amended to a single count of felony harassment if he testifies truthfully in court proceedings, according to the agreement.

On July 24, 2023, Keo’s defense attorney, Craig Platt, filed the first motion to appoint a public defense expert. He asked to hire Dr. Brent Oneal, a licensed psychologist who specializes in forensic psychological assessments, to evaluate Keo’s mental state at the time of the incident.

“It is currently, generally accepted in the expert treatment and educational communities,” the declaration by the defense states, “that children and young adults who are in their late teen years at present time have experienced isolation, and often trauma, during the evolution of the COVID pandemic. There are many examples of the psychological impacts that social isolation and other factors have caused in people of this age, from depression and suicide to drug use and various other forms of criminal acting out.”

The judge granted the motion, ordering that the total charge not exceed $6,200 without further authorization.

On Aug. 29, Platt asked the court to fund a private investigator, Lana Reichert, to assist with analyzing discovery and investigating the circumstances. The judge agreed and limited the expense to $3,500.

On Oct. 26, Platt asked for public funds to hire Anne Pace, a DNA expert and forensic analyst. The judge agreed and authorized $2,400.

Then on Dec. 13, the prosecution filed a motion to obtain a DNA sample from Keo. The motion states that a partial DNA profile was developed from an unfired .45-caliber round found at the scene of the shooting.

The defense argued against the collection of Keo’s DNA. The attorney wrote that the prosecution’s hearsay information is too unreliable to establish probable cause. The document points out that the partial DNA is degraded.

In addition, the defense argues that Deese is not credible and “has not provided accurate information to the police in the past.”

On Jan. 29, Skinner signed the order permitting the taking of DNA from the defendant.

If convicted of the charges against him, Keo could face up to 11 years and four months in prison under the standard sentencing range. In addition, a firearm special allegation could add another five years to a sentence.