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Man sentenced to 40 years in fire-pit killing

May 18, 2009|By TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Jerome W. Smith, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in February in the 2004 fire-pit slaying of Keese Bare, was sentenced Monday in Morgan County Circuit Court to 40 years in prison.

Judge Gina M. Groh of the 23rd Judicial Circuit said Smith was the only one who accepted responsibility for his actions. Forty years is the maximum sentence Smith could receive.

Smith apologized to Bare's family and said he hoped that one day they would be able to forgive him.

"He was emotional," Morgan County Prosecutor Debra MH McLaughlin said of Smith.  

Carol Beasley, Bare's mother, later said, "Apologizing to me means nothing. How can you apologize for such a horrific crime? I can't stand the sight of any one of them."

Smith, 25, of Frederick County, Va., was charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Groh accepted Smith's plea agreement to second-degree murder based on approval by Bare's parents, who did not want to go through a third murder trial. The conspiracy charge was dismissed. 

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Smith testified at the February trial of Vernon L. Kerns that he cut Bare's throat, and that Jason M. Payne beat and Kerns stabbed Bare.

Smith will be eligible for parole in 10 years, McLaughlin said.  

Kerns, 26, of Berkeley Springs was convicted of first-degree murder with no mercy, and of conspiracy to commit murder in the killing of Bare.  

Kerns will spend the rest of his life in prison. 

Payne, 27, of Berkeley Springs received a sentence of 14 to 75 years last May, which included the maximum sentence of 40 years for the second-degree murder of Bare.  

The three men were convicted of killing Bare, 27, and burning his body at a Potomac River campsite in Morgan County in September 2004. His remains were not found until 2006. 

Kerns' sister, Amanda Kerns Ekatah, testified that Bare was killed because they were afraid he was going to tell the police of their involvement in stolen credit card fraud.

"I still have to go on, but they took Keese away from me, and we didn't even have his body to bury," Beasley said.

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