Prosecution begins its case in Kelly trial

Nicole Stempak

Not drunk, not high, not thug.


Ronald Kelly’s defense attorney Gregory Robey wrote those words in big capital letters on an easel board today in an effort to prove Kelly was not the “common street thug” the prosecution described.  

Kelly, 20, is on trial for the murder of Kent State student Christopher Kernich. Kelly, a Shaker Heights native, was a student at the University of Akron at the time of the attack.


Monday morning, the jury in Judge John Enlow’s courtroom heard testimony from John Kernich, the victim’s father, and the frantic 911 calls from Nov. 15, 2009. 

Assistant Portage County Prosecutor Connie Lewandowski then called Matthew Mathis, Kent city paramedic and firefighter, to testify.


Mathis arrived a few minutes after the first 911 call. He said the back of Kernich’s head was bloody, and Kernich was unresponsive to verbal stimulus and pain. Kernich threw up three times while Mathis tried to stabilize Kernich’s breathing. Then Kernich’s jaw clenched shut. All are signs of a serious head injury, Mathis said.


Part of standard procedures to rate injured persons is to use the Glasgow Coma Scale, which assesses traumatic brain injury from a best possible score of 15, to a worst possible score of three.


“What score did you give him?” Lewandowski asked.


“Three,” Mathis said.


The answer drew a gasp and then tears from Kernich’s mother, seated in the back row.


Kent police officer Sarah Berkey arrived first in downtown Kent, a minute after the first 911 call. She said Kelly repeatedly asked to tell her his story even after acknowledging his Miranda rights.


He told her driver Glenn Jefferson Jr., 21, also Kelly’s roommate, was backing up his white Honda Civic when someone leaned into the passenger’s window and punched Kelly in the face, she said.


Kelly said he then got out to see who had punched him. When he turned back around, he saw Kernich on the ground.


This account conflicted with other eyewitness accounts Berkey heard.


But Robey argued different accounts do not make Kelly guilty.


“There was no blood on his clothes or his shoes?” he asked.


“None that I could see,” Berkey said.


“So the only thing unusual was that he wanted to talk to you,” Robey said.


Ed Wheeler was the second police officer to arrive, a minute or two after Berkey. He also led Kelly’s booking at the Kent Police Department. Wheeler took photographs of Barker’s and Kelly’s hands because they both looked swollen.


Robey wrote again on the easel board, in large capital letters: AB (Adrian Baker) – swollen and AB blood.


Kelly is one of two people charged with Kernich’s murder — Adrian Barker, 22, was convicted April 23 of murdering Kernich. Barker faces a sentence of from 15 years to life in prison. A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled.

Contact public affairs reporter Nicole Stempak at [email protected].