For the second time, a Portage County jury has found a former University of Akron student guilty of murder in the fatal beating of a Kent State University student during a confrontation on East Main Street in Kent in November 2009.
Adrian A. Barker, 25, of Shaker Heights, was found guilty Thursday of one count each of murder and felony murder, both unclassified felonies, and felonious assault, a second-degree felony, by a jury of nine women and three men who deliberated for approximately 12 hours over three days.
Barker was charged by Kent police with punching KSU student Christopher M. Kernich, a business major and a native of the Dayton suburb of Fairborn, in the back of the head, then stomping and kicking him in the head and torso during an assault early on the morning of Nov. 15, 2009. Kernich, who never regained consciousness, died at Akron City Hospital six days later.
The verdict came after two weeks of testimony in Portage County Common Pleas Court in Ravenna. Judge John Enlow read the jury's verdict just after 10:30 a.m. Thursday, and immediately sentenced Barker to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 15 years.
It is the same sentence Barker received following his April 2010 conviction for Kernich's murder. That conviction was overturned by the 11th District Court of Appeals in Warren after they found that Enlow failed to properly instruct Barker's original jury that they could consider "lesser included offenses" than murder during deliberation -- specifically either voluntary or involuntary manslaughter or reckless homicide.
Defense attorney John Q. Lewis objected to Enlow's decision to immediately sentence Barker, asking that it not happen on Thursday. Enlow declined his request.
Asked by Enlow if he had anything to say prior to sentencing, Barker replied "No sir."
Barker has the right to appeal the conviction and sentence within 30 days.
He is still serving a five-year prison term on his original conviction for tampering with evidence, a third-degree felony. Jurors in the original case convicted Barker of wiping Kernich's blood off his shoes, an act caught on Kent Police Department surveillance video.
Lewis said Barker's defense team was "obviously disappointed in the verdict."
"We felt the jury was presented with options that more appropriately fit the facts," he said. "It's clear the jury worked very hard and was diligent in its efforts and took the job seriously."
Portage County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci said he was pleased "that justice was done for the Kernich family."
"I think the evidence was consistent with the first trial," he said. "Both juries got it right."
Lewis said he and fellow attorneys Jon Oebker and Roger Synenberg will be reviewing the case to see if Barker has grounds for appeal.
Barker's friend and co-defendant Ronald G. Kelly, 23, also a UA student and also from Shaker Heights, was convicted of murder and felonious assault and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 15 years. His first parole hearing is scheduled in 2024, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.
Glenn P. Jefferson Jr., 25, of Mentor, was Kelly's roommate. He drove Barker and Kelly to Kent the night of the incident. Never charged in the assault or murder, he instead served one year in prison for lying to Kent police during their investigation. He ended up testifying against both Barker and Kelly.
Defense attorneys tried to paint Jefferson as an alternate suspect to Barker -- the two have similar builds and were both dressed in white T-shirts the night of the incident -- and also attacked the Kent Police Department investigation.
However, approximately 20 eyewitnesses identified Barker and Kelly as the men who stomped and kicked Kernich after Barker knocked him unconscious with a single punch to the back of the head.
"I've said this before, but I am proud of the work that Kent police and my office did in reconstructing this case after three years," Vigluicci said. "It was a monumental feat to locate all of these 20 witnesses who used to be college students in Kent who are now in their various occupations, as well as police officers who had retired and moved to Florida."
He added: "It was very important to us to ensure that justice was done, and they did that regardless of man hours or cost."
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Facebook: Dave O'Brien, Record-Courier