VALPARAISO — An 18-year-old Valparaiso man, charged with murdering two Lake County youths in February, said little Monday morning as he was presented with two additional charges.
Pleas of not guilty were entered on behalf of Connor Kerner to felony counts of intimidation and arson.
The initial hearing on the new charges resulted in a packed courtroom, largely made up of family and supporters of the two victims: Thomas Grill Jr., 18, of Cedar Lake, and Molley R. Lanham, 19, of St. John.
Police allege that just hours after Kerner killed the young man and woman, he shared the news and details with an acquaintance before giving her a chilling warning.
"Connor told (the confidential informant) that if she told anyone that he did this (the killings), he would kill her and her family," according to additional charges filed in the case.
The felony arson charge accuses Kerner of burning the 2012 Honda Civic used by the victims on the night of their Feb. 25 slayings, police said. Authorities said the victims were in the vehicle when it was lit on fire.
Kerner already was facing two counts of murder.
Kerner is accused of killing Grill and Lanham in what Kerner claims was a drug deal gone bad in Kerner's grandparents' garage in Boone Township, according to court records.
Kerner, who was 17 at the time of the killings, reportedly told the informant he shot Grill after Grill tried to rob him during the drug deal.
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"Grill fell to the ground and was begging for his life," according to police records. "Kerner advised that he panicked due to being out of bullets in the gun. Kerner then beat him (Grill) with a pipe wrench until he died."
Kerner then showed Grill's body to Lanham, court records allege. Kerner warned Lanham not to say anything about the death, and as she turned to leave, Kerner shot her in the head, police said.
An informant told police Kerner said he loaded the two bodies into the trunk of the teens' Honda Civic about midnight following the killings and loaded the vehicle with various containers of flammable liquids.
Kerner drove the Civic to an area near the intersection of County Roads 550 South and 250 West in Porter Township and set the vehicle and bodies ablaze, the informant told police.
The bodies were discovered March 2 inside the burned-out car and were confirmed to be Grill and Lanham, authorities said.
Kerner reportedly told the confidential informant "that he had done something 'really bad.' She asked him to specify, to which he replied, 'I killed someone, and I killed an innocent girl.'"
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.