Kerns found guilty in fire-pit murder

February 23, 2009|By TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. -- The second man charged with killing Keese Bare in 2004 and burning his body in a fire pit was found guilty Monday in Morgan County Circuit Court.

The 12-person jury at the trial of Vernon L. Kerns reached a decision after two hours of deliberation.

About 2:15 p.m., Kim Jackson, Morgan County Circuit Clerk, read the verdict that Kerns was guilty of first-degree murder with no mercy, and guilty of conspiracy to commit murder.

Kerns showed no emotion when the verdict was read. A first-degree murder conviction with no mercy means he will never be eligible for parole.

Family members of Kerns and Bare were in the courtroom. Carol Beasley, Bare's mother, sobbed quietly when the verdict was read.


Kerns, 26, of Berkeley Springs, was convicted in Bare's death along with Jason M. Payne, 27, of Berkeley Springs.

Payne was convicted in May of second-degree murder and received the maximum sentence of 40 years for the crime.

Jerome W. Smith, 25, of Frederick County, Va., entered a guilty plea to second-degree murder in the case, and it was accepted last week. He will be sentenced May 18 at 10:30 a.m.

Kerns, Payne and Smith are all first cousins, said Morgan County prosecutor Debra MH McLaughlin.

"They were all murderers," she said in her closing remarks.

On or about Sept. 2, 2004, Bare was murdered at a Potomac River campsite in Morgan County, W.Va.

According to witness testimony, Kerns was involved in credit card fraud, and was afraid Bare was going to tell Deputy Timothy Stapleton of the Morgan County Sheriff's Department.

Bare's remains were not found until April 2006, when John Gue, a close friend of Kerns, told Stapleton where to find them. Gue said Kerns told him right after the murder but he did not want to believe him, but then "my conscience got the best of me," Gue testified last week.

McLaughlin told the jury that Kerns and Gue had an intimate relationship and that the "relationship explains why Gue kept the secret."

According to testimony, Kerns picked up Smith and Bare and took them to the campsite. Kerns started a fire in the fire pit, they drank a lot of Jim Beam and Bare fell asleep. Payne and Amanda Kerns Ekatah, Kerns' sister, arrived later, separately.

Ekatah testified when she arrived, Kerns told her "they were going to kill Keese."

She said they woke Bare up, Payne and Kerns were on either side of him, and Smith was behind. Smith then slit his throat.

They let go of Bare and he ran toward the fire pit. Kerns stabbed him and Payne beat him with a baton, she said.

The men then put Bare on the fire and put wooden pallets on top of him.

Ekatah was nine months pregnant at the time of the murder. She said she did not talk to the police because she was afraid of her brother and Payne.

Judge Gina M. Groh of the 23rd Judicial Circuit said post-trial motions and Kerns' sentencing hearing will take place Monday, April 6 at 1 p.m. in Morgan County Circuit Court.


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