Retrial to start in 2009 murder of Kent State student on East Main Street

By Dave O'Brien | staff writer Published:

Jury selection is set to begin today in the retrial of a Shaker Heights man accused of murdering a Kent State University student during a fight in Kent in November 2009.

The 11th District Court of Appeals in Warren ruled in 2012 that the Portage County Prosecutor's Office must retry Adrian A. Barker, 25, in the beating death of KSU business student Christopher M. Kernich, 23, of the Dayton suburb of Fairborn.

The appeals court ruled that during the original trial in April 2010, Portage County Common Pleas Judge John Enlow failed to properly instruct jurors to consider lesser charges of manslaughter or reckless homicide against Barker, which could have significantly reduced his prison sentence. Convictions on murder and felonious assault charges were overturned, and the case sent back to Portage County Common Pleas Court for a retrial.

The retrial "is a result of a legal technicality and nothing to do with the evidence we presented" at trial, Portage County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci said. "We intend to present that same evidence again."

His original sentence of 15 years to life in prison overturned, Barker remains in the Trumbull Correctional Institution, serving a five-year prison term on a charge of tampering with evidence after the jury found him guilty of wiping Kernich's blood off his shoes while being booked at the Kent City jail the night of the beating.

In the original trial, it took jurors fewer than three hours to convict Barker of Kernich's murder. His co-defendant, Ronald G. Kelly, 23, is serving a sentence of 15 years to life in prison in the Mansfield Correctional Institution.

The appeals court and the Ohio Supreme Court have denied Kelly's appeals and requests for a new trial.

Witnesses said Barker punched Kernich in the back of the head as Kernich and Kelly squared up to fight in the 200 block of East Main Street in Kent on Nov. 15, 2009. The fight followed an altercation between Barker, Kelly, Kelly's roommate Glenn P. Jefferson Jr., and a group consisting of Kernich and his friends, who were returning home from a night out. All had been drinking, with Barker, Kelly and Jefferson having been thrown out of a fraternity party after a dispute there, according to Kent police and courtroom testimony.

Barker's punch knocked Kernich to the ground, unconscious, where witnesses said both Barker and Kelly kicked and stomped on Kernich's head and body until bystanders at the Delta Tau Delta fraternity house ran out into the street to stop the beating.

Witnesses later said Jefferson, who was driving a white Honda, pulled over after a passenger and Kernich's group had words over the car nearly hitting one of Kernich's friends. Kelly, who testified at his own trial in May 2010, claimed to have been punched in the face by Kernich or one of his friends.

Kernich died a week later, having never regained consciousness.

Vigluicci lauded the "excellent investigators" in his office and the hard work of the Kent Police Department in tracking down nearly 20 witnesses, many of whom were Kent State University students at the time, and bringing them back to Ohio for the re-trial.

Jefferson, now 25, was later sentenced to one year in prison by Judge Laurie Pittman on a felony obstructing justice charge for lying to Kent police about the night of the incident. Barker's previous attorneys accused Jefferson of lying to protect himself after several eyewitnesses identified him as Kernich's attacker.

Both Jefferson and Barker are skinny with short hair and were wearing white T-shirts the night of the beating, they argued. Barker is a light-skinned black man, while Jefferson is white, and the two could have easily been confused for each other at night under streetlights, Barker's attorneys argued.

Contact this reporter at 330-298-1128 or dobrien@recordpub.com

Facebook: Dave O'Brien, Record-Courier

Twitter: @RCCrimeWatch

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