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Owner of Porter County site of double slaying tells jurors he never met the accused
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Owner of Porter County site of double slaying tells jurors he never met the accused

VALPARAISO — Police say John Silva II hid in the basement of a Boone Township home around noon Feb. 25, 2019 as his friend, Connor Kerner, killed two Lake County teens in the garage above.

But the owner of that home, Kerner's maternal grandfather, Gerald Dye, told jurors Wednesday morning that he had never met Silva.

"I do not know John Silva," Dye said. "This is the first time I have ever seen John Silva."

Silva, who is on trial for his alleged role in the robbery and grisly double slaying, sat just a few feet away in the courtroom during Dye's testimony.

As he has testified during his grandson's trial last fall, Dye told jurors Wednesday that he was away on vacation with his wife when the robbery and killings took place in the garage of his home.

When he returned home the day following the killings, he said he began noticing signs of what turned out to be a less-than-thorough cover-up of the crime.

Dye said he nearly immediately noticed a shoddy patch job on the garage wall and areas of the garage floor that had been cleaned or painted. As time went on, Dye said he noticed bullet holes in vehicles in his garage and paint sprayed on the floor, and discovered a handgun he left in the garage was missing.

"I called Connor Kerner to see if he had it," Dye said.

His hunch was correct and he retrieved the CZ9 handgun from Kerner, with whom he had gone target shooting in the past.

"It was not common for him to remove a firearm from our house," Dye said. "It never happened."

Dye admitted to initially lying to police investigators about the damage and repairs he noticed at his home. He later confessed, blaming the shock of having just learned his grandson was being held on accusations of the grisly double slaying at his house.

"We had no idea what happened in our house that week," he said. "I'm in a state of shock," he said. "I'm not thinking straight. I can't believe what I just heard."

Silva, 20, of Hamlet, is accused of knowingly accompanying Kerner to Kerner's maternal grandparents' home and hiding in the basement while Kerner shot both Thomas Grill, 18, of Cedar Lake, and Molley Lanham, 19, of St. John, in the garage above.

Kerner then summoned Silva to help clean up while Kerner finished the killing of Grill by beating him with a pipe wrench, police say.

Kerner loaded the bodies of Grill and Lanham in the trunk of a Honda Civic following the slayings, along with various containers of flammable liquids, and set the vehicle on fire, police said. He was not able to follow through on plans to haul away and dispose the charred remains of the vehicle and bodies, which were later found by police in a rural area near Dye's property.

While the defense has argued Silva unknowingly became wrapped up in the double slaying, prosecutors say he was part of the plan all along. Silva is charged with two counts each of murder and robbery resulting in serious bodily injury.

Jurors were shown a surveillance video last week of Silva and Kerner leaving Valparaiso High School together less than two hours before the killings.

Silva said he turned off his location service setting on his cellphone and saw Kerner retrieve a black handgun from the glove box of his vehicle before entering his grandparents' home, according to charging documents.

The trial, which is scheduled through next week, is taking place before Porter Superior Court Judge Mike Fish.

Kerner, 20, was found guilty in October for his role in the crime and later sentenced to 179 years behind bars, which the judge acknowledged was a "de facto" life sentence. Kerner has since appealed.

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Porter/LaPorte County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.

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