Prosecution calls Kernich’s friends to describe night of assault

Kelly Byer

On trial for the murder of Christopher Kernich, Ronald Kelly sat stiffly throughout an afternoon of witness testimony today.

Kelly and the jury listened as prosecutors called three witnesses who were at the scene of Kent State student Kernich’s assault on Nov. 15, 2009.

A picture of Kernich sat on the court reporter’s desk in Judge John Enlow’s courtroom as Officer Benjamin Darrah of the Kent Police Department discussed the “show-up” process used to identify suspects.

Darrah, one of the responding officers to the scene, said it was apparent witnesses Charles Johanson, David Clements and Bradley Chelko had been drinking but that none were “falling down drunk.”

During defense attorney Gregory Robey’s cross-examination, Darrah said he spoke to Johanson, who said he saw Adrian Barker kicking Kernich.

Barker, 22, was convicted of murder on April 23 and has yet to be sentenced.

“Johanson never stated that he saw Kelly stomp him,” Darrah said.

“And he was the one that was right there?” Robey asked.

“He was in the area, yes,” Darrah replied.

Darrah said it appeared as if Kelly had been drinking but that he didn’t have enough contact with Kelly to determine whether he was intoxicated.

“He cooperated?” Robey asked.

“All I asked him to do was step out of the car, and he cooperated,” Darrah answered.

Assistant Portage County Prosecutor Connie Lewandowski then questioned senior finance major Christopher Pataky about Kernich.

Pataky described how he and Kernich went to a party before heading downtown to some bars. He said they then met two of Kernich’s roommates, Clements and Chelko, at Euro Gyro before deciding to head home.

It was during the walk back when Pataky said a white Honda Civic recklessly sped out of the Firestone parking lot.

Pataky then described Kernich’s assault and said, in his opinion, Barker and Kelly were the aggressors.

Lewandowski showed a picture of Kernich hooked up to machines in the hospital, which brought gasps and sobs from Kernich’s family.

“That was Chris,” Pataky said.

“Full of life?” Lewandowski asked.

“Yes,” he answered.

But Robey argued that Pataky’s statements about the incident were inconsistent and failed to identify Kelly.

Robey said Pataky identified Barker in his first oral statement, left Kelly out of his second statement and included Kelly during today’s testimony.

But the prosecution objected that Kelly’s identification was included on the first page of Pataky’s written statement, which he then read aloud.

The statement tells of two black males standing by Kernich, and then describes Barker stomping on him.

“I think in context, you’re reading it wrong,” Pataky said.

Robey disagreed, saying that Pataky was attempting to help Kernich’s family since he was a good friend.

“Mr. Pataky, the truth is that you added that today,” Robey said about Kelly’s involvement.

“That’s not true at all,” Pataky replied.

The defense said conflicting statements placed Kelly fighting Chelko, not Kernich.

“And certainly he can’t be in two places at one time can he?” Robey asked.

“No,” Pataky replied.

Senior air traffic control major Bradley Chelko’s was called to testify next. After recounting the night’s events for the prosecution, Robey also questioned his statements.

In his first oral statement, Chelko said he couldn’t recall whether he told the officer of Kelly. His first brief written statement did not identify the assailants and the second, page-long written statement describes two men as the agressors. A fourth statement Chelko made to prosecutors included mugshots and identifies Barker and Kelly.

Chelko later said he identified Kelly in his oral statement and during an audio and video interview before writing his second statement. He said he failed to identify the aggressors because he was in a rush.

“I’m just trying to fill out a quick statement and get to the hospital,” Chelko said, adding that the last thing he wanted to do after seeing his friend Kernich taken away in an ambulance was write a statement.

Robey brought up how Chelko was against calling the cops, to which Chelko responded that he thought Kernich would soon get up.

But Robey had another theory. He said he thought it was because Chelko initiated the fight, which caused Kernich’s friends and family to laugh loudly.

Portage County Assistant Prosecutor Tom Buchanan finished Chelko’s questioning by reviewing how his oral statement mentioned Kelly. Chelko also affirmed that his written statements weren’t detailed because of his rush to see Kernich and that Kelly was identified in his audio and video interview with the Kent police.

Contact public affairs reporter Kelly Byer at [email protected].