A new trial date has been set for a former Shaker Heights man convicted in 2010 of murdering a Kent State University student during a fight on East Main Street in November 2009.
Adrian A. Barker, 24, will be tried a second time in September for the beating death of Christopher M. Kernich, 23, in Kent. The trial is set to begin on Sept. 3 in Portage County Common Pleas Judge John Enlow's courtroom, according to court records. A pretrial conference is scheduled in June.
Barker was granted a new trial early last year after an appeals court found that Enlow failed to properly instruct the jury in Barker's April 2010 murder trial that they could find him guilty of lesser charges including manslaughter or reckless homicide, which would have reduced his potential prison sentence.
He was convicted of Kernich's murder by a Portage County Common Pleas Court jury after less than three hours of deliberations on April 23, 2010. Enlow later sentenced Barker to 15 years to life in prison.
However, the 11th District Court of Appeals in Warren reversed Barker's convictions on the murder and felonious assault charges in a decision released in February.
Enlow "did not apply proper legal standard for determining whether lesser included offense instructions were required," according to the appeals court's decision. "The proper standard mandates a court to consider whether the evidence viewed in the defendant's favor and with disregard for its persuasiveness, could reasonably support both an acquittal on the crimes charged and a conviction on the proposed lesser included offenses."
Barker remains incarcerated on a five-year prison term for tampering with evidence. That conviction, for wiping Kernich's blood off his shoes while being booked at the Kent police station on the night of the incident, was affirmed by the appeals court.
Portage County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci said one of the issues with a new trial is finding some of the 17 student witnesses who testified at the original trial. Many have since graduated and moved away.
Many of those witnesses testified during Barker's murder trial that a man who looked like Barker punched Kernich in the back of the head, knocking him unconscious in the 200 block of East Main Street in Kent on Nov. 15, 2009.
The incident began, according to witnesses, police, prosecutors and court testimony, as Kernich and several friends walked home from a night of drinking in downtown Kent. At the same time, University of Akron students Barker and Ronald G. Kelly and Glenn P. Jefferson Jr., Kelly's roommate, were leaving a fraternity party in Jefferson's white Honda.
An altercation started between the Kernich group, walking east on East Main Street, and those in Jefferson's car, and Jefferson pulled into a nearby driveway. Kernich's friends testified that Barker, Jefferson and Kelly got out and assaulted them, with Kelly and Kernich "squaring off" as if to fight in the middle of East Main Street.
Witnesses said Barker sucker-punched Kernich in the back of the head, knocking him unconscious in the street. Despite defense claims that it was Jefferson, not Barker -- both were skinny, light-skinned and wearing white T-shirts that night -- jurors decided that Barker joined Kelly in kicking and stomping Kernich in the head as he lay in the street. Kernich died a week later at Akron City Hospital, never having regained consciousness.
Kelly, now 23, was tried and convicted of felony murder and felonious assault in Enlow's court in May 2010, and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. The 11th District Court of Appeals later upheld his conviction, and the Ohio Supreme Court declined to hear his appeal in September 2012. Kelly's first parole hearing is scheduled in September 2024, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.
After testifying against Barker and Kelly, Jefferson pleaded guilty to obstructing justice and was sentenced by Judge Laurie Pittman to one year in prison in September 2010. Barker's attorneys accused him of lying to protect himself from being charged after several eyewitnesses identified him as Kernich's attacker.
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There was testimony in the first trials, and this new trial, that Christopher Kernich and his friends were drinking alcohol in at least two bars in downtown Kent. Testimony showed Christopher Kernich had as many as eight beers in 4 or 5 hours. Therefore, saying he and his friends were "out drinking" is factually correct. Also, to say Barker, Kelly and Jefferson were "leaving" a fraternity party is technically correct. Evidence of the fight inside the fraternity house was not allowed at the first trial because it was charged as a separate crime by police and ruled by a judge to be a separate incident unrelated to the murder.
Thanks for reading. Hopefully you will follow the coverage of the new trial just as closely.
Having closely followed this case because Im 2nd cousin to Chris, I have to point out a few holes in this overview... First the people closest to the victim during the attack were not at all confused as to who stomped Chris... it was Adrian Barker and Ronald Kelly. The way you speak of Chris "out drinking" that night and then say the killers were leaving a frat party was also wrong they... were kicked out of a frat party for attacking a party attendee, Kelly and Barker kicking him in the head when he was on the ground too, difference was he was not unconcious while being kicked and was able to get away, Chris was defenseless. The murder charges were brought because Chris was unconcious on the ground while he was being kicked in the head by those two murderers. How is that reckless homicide... that was murder. He will be convicted again. Barker is a murderer, and the worst kind this side of a serial killer, as he wasnt mad at Chis and his friends, he was mad at the members of the frat party who kicked him out. He is pure scum.
Could this be the reason our Portage County Courts never give out harsh sentences? Maybe they are so out of practice that they are afraid they will be overturned on appeal.