Nearly four years after Kent State University student Christopher Kernich was beaten on a Kent street and died in an Akron hospital in November 2009, one of his alleged killers returned to Portage County to be retried on murder and felonious assault charges after a legal technicality voided his conviction.
Adrian A. Barker, now 25, was convicted of murder following a trial in April 2010. However, Ohio's 11th District Court of Appeals ruled that Judge John Enlow erred in failing to properly instruct Barker's jury that it could consider lesser charges such as manslaughter or reckless homicide. The case was sent back to Portage County Common Pleas Court for retrial.
After selecting 12 jurors -- nine men and five women, with several alternates -- on Tuesday, attorneys accompanied them on a tour of the crime scene, the 200 block of East Main Street in Kent, prior to opening statements in Enlow's courtroom Wednesday.
Kernich, 23, was "a young man, coming into his own. A college student majoring in business and well-thought of among his peers," Assistant Portage County Prosecutor Connie Lewandowski said in her opening statement. However, "he became a brutal casualty of Adrian Barker and his cohort, Ronald Kelly."
Defense attorney John Q. Lewis countered that Kent police were "too quick to resolve this incident" and arrested "the only two black kids" at the scene.
"Other witnesses will testify and tell police that a white guy in a white shirt punched (Kernich) and ran away from the scene," he said.
It was at about 2:20 a.m. on Nov. 15, 2009, on East Main Street, prosecutors allege, that Barker and Kelly, both Shaker Heights natives and University of Akron students, ambushed Kernich and his friends Bradley Chelko, David Clements and Christopher Pataky as they walked home from a night out in downtown Kent.
Lewandowksi told jurors that Barker and Kelly met up with Kelly's roommate, Glen P. Jefferson Jr., to attend a party. Afterward, they got into Jefferson's white two-door Honda Civic and backed quickly out of a parking space at 202 E. Main St., nearly striking Kernich's group. Pataky testified Wednesday he yelled "Hey, your piece of (expletive) car almost hit us."
The Honda then stopped and the occupants of the car got out. Pataky said he turned to see Kelly and Kernich "squared up" as if to fight.
Barker allegedly approached Kernich from behind and delivered what has been called a "sucker punch" to the back of his head, knocking him unconscious. Kelly and Barker then allegedly stood over Kernich and stomped and kicked him in the head and chest until chased away by witnesses.
Pataky testified he saw Barker inflict "two or three" hard stomps on a "motionless" Kernich.
A 2010 graduate of KSU now working as a financial consultant in New York City, Pataky said the men had never met before but he was sure it was Barker who kicked and stomped his friend.
Cross examined by Lewis, Pataky said a Kent police officer misheard him when he was quoted in a report saying that "two white men" attacked Kernich. Barker and Kelly are black.
"I did not tell (Officer Jason Short) that it was two white males," Pataky testified. "It was two black males. I've maintained that since day one."
Kelly, now 23, is serving a sentence of 15 years to life in prison after being convicted of murder and felonious assault in May 2010. Jefferson was sentenced to one year in prison after pleading guilty to obstructing justice for lying to investigators.
Barker is serving a five-year prison term after being convicted of tampering with evidence for wiping Kernich's blood off his shoes while being booked at the Kent Police Department.
Testimony continues today.
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Facebook: Dave O'Brien, Record-Courier