By Dave O’Brien | Record-Courier staff writer
Ronald G. Kelly took the witness stand Wednesday in Portage County Common Pleas Court, blaming his friend Adrian A. Barker for the fatal punch to the back of Christopher M. Kernich’s head that knocked the 23-year-old Kent State University student unconscious.
Through tears, Kelly denied stomping or kicking Kernich while Kernich lay unconscious on East Main Street in Kent. His testimony was the first time the jury in Judge John Enlow’s courtroom in Ravenna has heard Kelly speak directly about the Nov. 15, 2009, incident.
Kelly, 20, testified for three hours Wednesday — first under direct examination by defense attorney Gregory S. Robey, then under cross examination by Assistant Portage County Prosecutor Tom Buchanan.
Kelly burst into tears as he recalled hearing that Kernich died Nov. 21 while he sat in the Portage County jail, his home for the past six months.
“I should have been able to diffuse the situation, but I kept in it,” he told Robey.
At times, Kelly and Robey physically acted out the events of the night from Kelly’s point of view, with Robey “playing” co-defendants Barker and Glenn P. Jefferson Jr., as well as victims and eyewitnesses.
Kelly said he and Barker, both University of Akron students, partied with friends in Kent on Nov. 14, 2009. Barker was intoxicated, drinking a vodka/juice “concoction” and beer throughout the night, Kelly said.
Kelly, Barker and Jefferson — who met up with the pair at a Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity house party — were leaving Kent when Barker and Jefferson exchanged profanities with a group of pedestrians after Jefferson’s Honda Civic made a loud noise in the Firestone Complete Auto Care parking lot, Kelly said.
Kelly said he was punched through the open window of Jefferson’s car, leading to an altercation with Kernich’s group. The incident escalated when Kernich threw a gyro wrapper at Jefferson, Kelly said, and Kernich’s friend Bradley Chelko tried to tackle him as Kernich and Kelly squared up to fight.
That’s when Barker knocked Kernich out with a punch to the back of the head, Kelly said — contradicting his prior statements to police. Kelly said he did not see Barker stomp Kernich and denied kicking or stomping the victim.
“Head, chest, nowhere. I never put my foot on him,” he said, also denying knowing Barker planned to “sucker punch” Kernich.
On cross examination, Buchanan accused Kelly of using testimony from the trial to “blend” facts to fit his own defense.
“Let’s just face it, you’re a liar,” Buchanan told Kelly on cross examination.
“No, sir,” Kelly replied.
Buchanan accused Kelly of lying to three separate Kent police officers about squaring up with Kernich, seeing Barker punch Kernich and kicking and stomping Kernich. Ten witnesses identified Kelly — a dark-skinned black man wearing a red shirt and light blue jeans — as doing so, Buchanan noted. Kelly refused to call the witnesses liars, but also could not explain their testimony.
“You didn’t figure that (seeing Barker punch Kernich) was an important fact?” Buchanan asked.
“I thought (police) would figure that out. I just wanted them to know it wasn’t me,” Kelly replied.
“You said ‘No, (Barker) didn’t do it, I didn’t see it.’ That’s a lie?” Buchanan asked. “Yes, sir,” Kelly replied.
Buchanan asked Kelly if he thought his Nov. 16, 2009, interview with Kent police detective Mark DiJerome would have been a good time to admit seeing Barker knock Kernich out.
“Yes, sir,” Kelly replied, admitting he lied to protect Barker.
“I lied because I thought (Barker) was not going to let me go down for his actions,” Kelly said.
“You lied nonetheless?” Buchanan asked Kelly. “You had the opportunity to tell DiJerome the truth, and you lied?”
“Yes, sir,” Kelly said.
Barker was convicted April 23 of Kernich’s murder and other charges. He faces at least 15 years to life in prison at his sentencing Tuesday afternoon in Enlow’s courtroom. Jefferson, a 21-year-old Mentor native, Kelly’s roommate and Akron U classmate, has been charged with two felonies for allegedly obstructing justice in the case. He is set for trial Tuesday in Judge Laurie Pittman’s courtroom.
Robey rested his case Wednesday after Kelly’s testimony. Closing arguments are set to begin at 8:30 a.m. today.
Reprinted with permission of RecordPub.com.