VALPARAISO — A civil lawsuit alleges the mother and maternal grandparents of Connor Kerner contributed to the circumstances leading to the double murder allegedly carried out by the Valparaiso teenager.
The suit, filed on behalf of the mother of one of the murder victims, 19-year-old Molley Lanham, accuses Kerner's grandparents, Christine and Gerald Dye, of Hebron, of failing to properly secure their gun or guns at their property where the Feb. 25 shooting deaths took place.
The couple was out of town at the time of the shootings and had given Connor Kerner and his mother, Roxann Kerner, access to the property at 249 W. County Road 700 South in order to care for their dog, according to the suit filed by Schererville attorney Tara Tauber.
Lanham, of St. John, drove a friend, Thomas Grill Jr., 18, of Cedar Lake, to Dye's property on Feb. 25 to meet Connor Kerner of Valparaiso, the suit filed in Porter County court states.
During the visit, Kerner, who was 17 at the time, is accused of shooting Grill and then beating him to death, before fatally shooting Lanham in the back of the head, police said.
"Gerald and Christine had a duty to properly secure their firearms when they were not home, particularly when they knew that Connor and Roxann would be accessing the property in their absence to care for the dog," according to the suit.
The lawsuit claims the grandparents "knew or should have known that Connor Kerner had significant behavioral problems."
The suit also alleges Connor Kerner, now 18, had been involved in the sale and/or consumption of illegal drugs and had "previously inflicted serious bodily injury upon another person in the fall of 2018." The behavior necessitated him attending alternative school, according to the lawsuit.
The filing seeks an unspecified amount of money to compensate Lanham's estate, represented by her mother, Stacy Spejewski, for the loss. The action is permitted under the Indiana Child Wrongful Death statute, according to the suit.
The suit also targets Roxann Kerner, who had custody of her son, Connor, and lived with him in Valparaiso, at the time of the slayings. Indiana code imposes strict liability upon Roxann for Connor's actions that resulted in Lanham's death, according to the legal action.
Tauber appeared with Lanham's parents in July before the St. John Town Council, accusing police there of minimizing the initial report of Lanham's disappearance.
Tauber accused police of displaying "disrespect" and "unprofessionalism" in Lanham’s case.
Connor Kerner has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder and felony counts of intimidation and arson.
A status hearing in the criminal case is scheduled for Sept. 23 before Porter Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford.
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