VALPARAISO — After nearly three weeks of testimony and nearly 800 pieces of evidence, Connor Kerner was convicted of killing two teens in early 2019.
The jury, after about four hours of deliberation Thursday, returned guilty verdicts on two counts of murder; two counts of murder in perpetration of a robbery; two counts of attempted robbery; and one count of arson. The jury found Kerner not guilty on one count of intimidation.
Kerner's sentencing has been set for Dec. 8 at 9 a.m.
The murder trial wound down Thursday morning with the defense attempting to turn the spotlight from their client to the co-defendant and the woman who touched off the investigation.
Defense attorney Mark Thiros held up a smiling photo of Kerner's former girlfriend that he said was taken by Kerner just a couple days after he allegedly confessed to her that he killed 18-year-old Thomas Grill, of Cedar Lake and 19-year-old Molley Lanham, of St. John, around noon Feb. 25, 2019, in the attached garage at his maternal grandparents' Hebron-area home.
The woman claimed she was scared and angry after hearing the news, but continued hanging out with Kerner for much of the week, including visiting his grandparents home where the killings took place.
"Who does that?" Thiros asked.
"This is the state's case — this person," he later said.
But Porter County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Armando Salinas scoffed at the notion that the case against 19-year-old Kerner hinges upon the testimony of the woman, who The Times has agreed not to identify because of safety concerns.
The woman was just the first domino to fall in an investigation that netted nearly 800 pieces of evidence showing Kerner carried out the murders and subsequent cover up, Salinas said.
Kerner, of Valparaiso, was charged with two counts each of murder, murder in the perpetration of a robbery and attempted robbery, and individual counts of arson and intimidation.
Porter County Prosecutor Gary Germann thanked Porter County Sheriff's Department and the two attorneys prosecuting the case, who he said worked 15-hour days for several weeks and weekends.
"Our entire community should be grateful for their combined efforts from start to finish," Germann said. "We are blessed to have such dedicated men and women."
Germann, acknowledging the "entirety of the tragedy," also said it was "heart wrenching to see three families who lost a child."
In court Thursday morning for closing arguments in the case were family representatives of both victims and Kerner's mother, Roxann Kerner.
The defense opted not to present any evidence on behalf of their client during the trial, but Indianapolis-based attorney James Voyles quickly tried to shift the blame during closing arguments to co-defendant John Silva II, 20, of Hamlet.
He referred to a conversation Silva allegedly recorded in the wake of the killings where he said Kerner asks Silva about being in possession of items from the crime including the handgun.
"He's got everything," Voyles said of Silva. "The man who has the gun is John Silva."
Silva is charged with two counts each of murder and robbery resulting in serious bodily injury, according to court records.
Voyles argued that prosecutors failed to produce evidence of the alleged robbery, which means jurors would not be able to find Kerner guilty of those murder charges.
He also picked through through and challenged other evidence in the case.
Porter County Deputy Prosecutor Chris Hammer reminded jurors that Kerner reportedly told his then-girlfriend, "I did something bad. I killed someone and I killed an innocent girl."
He took jurors back over the evidence presented over the past three weeks and replayed an audio recording Silva allegedly made of at least some of the gunshots during the killings. Grill's father walked out of the courtroom ahead of time and his mother leaned forward covering her ears as the six shots rang out on the recording followed by moans and cries.
Hammer said Kerner can be heard on tape demanding that Grill stand up and Grill telling him he does not have the drugs that were the target of the alleged robbery. He said the target was $20,000 to $50,000 in THC cartridges.
In this Series
- 5 updates