Death by ex-pro skateboarder's punch was a tragedy but not a murder, defense says

  • Terry Kennedy

    Terry Kennedy

Updated 9/27/2022 8:03 PM

The death of a Wheaton man after being punched by former professional skateboarder Terry Kennedy was "an unforeseeable tragedy among friends," a public defender argued Tuesday.

Kennedy is on trial for first-degree murder. The Long Beach, California, man is accused of killing 23-year-old Josiah Kassahun by punching him in the head on July 27, 2021, in the parking lot of an Oakbrook Terrace hotel. He also is charged with two counts of aggravated battery.


During the trial on Tuesday, a prosecutor said Kassahun was killed after he intervened in a dispute between Kennedy and Kennedy's girlfriend, Christie Maehler. The quarrel began when Maehler refused to drive Kennedy to an airport to fly home.

"The last words Josiah Kassahun spoke were, 'Calm down,'" prosecutor Rob Willis said. "And after he spoke the words, Terry Kennedy, the defendant, threw a fistful of rings at his face."

Authorities have alleged Kennedy was wearing rings on every finger when he hit Kassahun. One of the rings had blood and DNA consistent with that of Kassahun.

After the punch, Kassahun fell to the ground. Authorities allege Kennedy then kicked him in the torso.

Kassahun suffered internal injuries, a fractured skull, a broken orbital bone and bleeding on his brain, according to authorities. He underwent emergency brain surgery that day but died four days later.

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To convict Kennedy, Judge Michael Reidy must find that Kennedy knew beforehand that a single punch "created a strong probability" of causing death or great bodily harm, Assistant Public Defender Alyssa Aliperta said.

Aliperta argued that what happened to Kassahun was not murder.

"Terry Kennedy had no idea or reason to believe his friend ... would die," she said. "This was an unforeseeable tragedy among friends."

Kennedy, 37, had been staying with Maehler in Wheaton for several weeks. Maehler testified that Kassahun saw Kennedy outside her residence and recognized him. The two became friends and took to skateboarding together, she said.

The night before Kennedy was to fly home, the three spent the night in the hotel. When Kennedy was asleep, Kassahun and Maehler drank alcohol until sometime between 2 and 4 a.m., she said.


The next morning around 11 a.m., Maehler decided not to drive due to the effects of late-night drinking and possibly drinking in the morning. Kennedy disagreed with her offer to get an Uber ride. Maehler said she saw Kennedy punch Kassahun. She said Tuesday she was unsure if Kennedy kicked Kassahun, although that is what she told police the day of the punch, according to a police recording.

The bench trial resumes Wednesday morning.

Kennedy appeared in several MTV shows, some skateboarding video games and a music video for Snoop Dogg's "Drop It Like It's Hot" song. He co-founded the Fly Society clothing and music brand.

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