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Suspect's sister says she watched W.Va. slaying take place

May 09, 2008|By TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. -- The sister of one of three men charged with killing Keese Bare and burning his body testified Thursday that she watched as the murder took place.

Amanda Kerns Ekatah, the sister of Vernon Kerns, testified Thursday in Morgan County Circuit Court at the trial of Jason M. Payne, 26, who is charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

Vernon Kerns, 25, also is charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder. His trial is scheduled for September.

A third man, Jerome W. Smith, 24, was charged last month with first-degree murder.

Ekatah said Payne, of Berkeley Springs, and Smith, of Frederick County, Va., are her cousins.

The courtroom grew still Thursday as Ekatah testified, sometimes tearfully, about what transpired the night of Sept. 2, 2004, when Bare, 27, was killed.

Bare's remains were not found until 2006. The remains were identified by a Smithsonian Institution forensic anthropologist, Douglas W. Owsley, who testified Wednesday that he had 1,368 bone fragments with which to work.

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Ekatah said her brother called her about 10 p.m. and asked her to go to the campsite to pick him up because he was drunk.

'He slit his throat'

Ekatah, who was nine months pregnant at the time, said when she arrived, she saw Kerns, Payne, Smith and Bare around her brother's Ford Explorer and loud music was playing. She said she parked her car and walked toward the Explorer.

"Vernon came out and said they were going to kill Keese (Bare)," who was sitting on the ground near the vehicle, she testified.

She said Kerns and Payne stood on either side of Bare and Smith was behind him. She testified that Smith pulled Bare's head back and "he slit his throat."

Kerns and Payne were holding Bare, and he gave no resistance, Ekatah said. When they let him go, he slumped over, then got up and ran, she said.

"Then, Vernon started stabbing him with a knife, and he fell to the ground," she said.

"Vernon continued to stab him and Jason beat him on the head with a baton," Ekatah continued.

She said the baton looked like a metal police baton that expands.

"Swing it and it comes out," she said.

Ekatah said when Bare's throat was cut, she was standing by the Explorer, and "when he got up and ran, I sat down on the lawn chair."

She testified that Payne struck Bare "a lot of times," and the baton was bent in half. She said that Payne said "that's what happens to people who told, and that if I told anybody, he'd kill me and the baby."

She said they called her to the campsite because she, too, knew about stolen credit cards they had been using, "and they knew I would tell if anyone came to question me."

She begged him to stop

She said she begged Payne to stop beating Bare, but he said he was not going to jail for attempted murder.

The prosecuting attorney, Debra MH McLaughlin, asked Ekatah if she knew what happened to the baton. She said she did not, but Payne told her he threw the baton in the Potomac River, near the campsite.

After the stabbing, all three men dragged Bare to the fire pit and stacked wooden pallets on him in preparation for burning his body, Ekatah said.

When McLaughlin asked Ekatah why she didn't talk to police sooner, she replied that Payne and her brother "threatened me, and I was afraid of them."

She testified that they killed Bare because they were "afraid he was going to tell they were using the stolen credit cards."

Bare begged them not to kill him for the sake of his children, she said.

Ekatah said she left alone. She said they were going to burn the clothes they were wearing in the fire pit.

Defense attorney B. Craig Manford asked Ekatah if she had prior felony convictions and if she had spent more than one year in a Maryland state prison for women. She answered yes to both questions.

She said she twice had given false information to the Morgan County Sheriff's Department in April 2006, and that she told them she thought Bare had run off and she did not know why anyone would want to kill him.

Ekatah said no promises were made to her by the state for her testimony Thursday.

The trial is expected to resume today.

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