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Kerns blames fear for role in killing

February 20, 2009|By TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. -- At his trial in Morgan County Circuit Court, Vernon L. Kerns testified Friday he stabbed Keese Bare after Jason Payne beat Bare with a baton and asked, "Ain't you going to (expletive) do anything?"

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

Closing arguments in the trial will be heard Monday morning and the case then will go to the jury.

Kerns testified he, Bare and Jerome Smith went to the river lot to have a good time. He started a fire in the pit, and he said they drank a lot of Jim Beam and Bare fell asleep.

After Payne and Kerns' sister arrived, Payne and Smith woke Bare up. Smith then slit Bare's throat while Kerns was on the other side of his truck, he said.

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Kerns said Bare ran toward the fire pit and was holding his throat and said he saw blood coming through his hand, so it was not a superficial cut as Smith had testified.

Kerns said Payne ran after Bare and beat him for about five minutes with 15 to 20 blows with the baton. He said Payne later threw the baton in the river.

After Payne asked Kerns if he was going to do anything, Kerns said he stabbed Bare three times in the leg and buttocks.

Kerns said he feared for his own life.

"If I don't do something I could be next," he said.

Kerns helped put Bare on the fire because Payne "told me to help him," he said.

He said Payne and Smith put wood on top of Bare on the burning fire.

Kerns said his sister, Amanda Kerns Ekatah, got three bottles of fire starter from her car and gave them to Payne and he threw them on the fire.

He said she never said "stop" or "that's enough," as she had testified.

Kerns testified he never had talked of "getting rid of Keese." He said the stolen credit cards that were in Kerns' glove box fell out of Bare's wallet and he never used the stolen cards.

Ekatah testified her brother told her they "were going to kill Keese" right after she arrived at the river lot. She said Kerns said Bare was going to tell about their using the credit cards.

Morgan County Prosecutor Debra MH McLaughlin said to Kerns that Vanessa Payne Mickey, Dorcey Peacemaker, Joel Patton, Mark Beddow and Adam Courtney all testified he bragged about killing someone and burning the body.

McLaughlin said John Gue testified Kerns told him about the fire pit killing shortly after it took place.

"I never really told John or bragged," Kerns said.

"It's a conspiracy against you," McLaughlin said. "Aren't you angry?"

Payne, 27, of Berkeley Springs was convicted of second-degree murder in May and received a 40-year sentence for his involvement in Bare's death.

Judge Gina M. Groh of the 23rd Judicial Circuit accepted Smith's guilty plea Thursday to second-degree murder for his role in Bare's death.

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