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Defense: Kerns involved in stabbing

February 18, 2009|By TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Defense attorney Sherman L. Lambert said Vernon L. Kerns was involved in the stabbing of Keese Bare, but being involved is not enough to convict him.

"Was Keese Bare already dead at the time?" Lambert asked.

Opening statements and the first day of testimony were heard Wednesday at Kerns' trial in Morgan County Circuit Court.

Kerns, 26, of Berkeley Springs, is charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the killing of Bare in 2004. Bare's remains were discovered in 2006 at a Potomac River campsite, where his body had been burned in a fire pit.

Morgan County Prosecutor Debra MH McLaughlin told the jury in her opening remarks those involved in Bare's death are related to each other and they committed murder. She said Kerns made the decision they were going to kill Bare, and evidence will show it was his idea. She said Kerns was worried Bare was going to tell the police about the credit card fraud in which they were involved.

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John Gue testified he has known Kerns for about eight years and that his stepdaughter, Becky Bowman, has children by Kerns.

"Vernon is the father of my grandchildren," he said.

Gue said Kerns told him about Bare's death shortly after it happened, but Gue said he did not believe him.

"He was my best friend outside my wife," he said. "I didn't want to believe him."

Gue said Kerns, his sister, Amanda Kerns, and his cousin, Jerome Smith came to Gue's house to talk because Kerns was afraid they were "losing it."

Gue testified Kerns told him he and Smith went back to the campsite the day after the killing to continue to burn the body to make it unrecognizable because part of the upper torso was smoldering in the fire.

"I did not tell on them," Gue said. "We just talked about it and that's when I started to believe it took place."

Gue said in 2006 he called Morgan County Sheriff's Department Deputy Timothy Stapleton because "my conscience got the best of me. I wanted it known what happened to Keese."

"I told on my best friend -- my best friend in the world," he said. "We were more than friends. We shared some common issues."

Douglas W. Owsley, a Smithsonian Institution forensic anthropologist, testified the 1,368 bone fragments found at the campsite were those of Bare.

Owsley is a bone identification expert who works with law enforcement. He said was able to identify the victim by comparing bone fragments with X-rays taken of Bare at age 15.

"This is definitely Keese Bare," he said.

He said intentional efforts were made to try to break up the bones.

Owsley told Lambert he could not determine Bare's cause of death.

West Virginia Chief Medical Examiner Regina Reynolds testified she contacted Owsley "due to the massive destruction of the bones," and that he found the bones to be human.

Reynolds told Lambert she could not determine Bare's cause of death.

Tina Fox and her father, Wayne Fox, testified they rent the Potomac River campsite, lot 17, where Bare's body was burned. Tina Fox said Kerns never was given permission to use the site.

She testified after Labor Day 2004, the campsite was different in that wooden picnic tables and pallets were burned.

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