A woman accused of killing her husband New Year's Eve 2014 in Massillon is back in court this week after a mistrial in April.
CANTON A jury will have to decide whether it was murder or self defense when a woman shot her husband to death in 2014 inside their Massillon home.
Colleen McKernan is in front of Stark County Common Pleas Judge Chryssa Hartnett this week for a second time after her first trial in April ended with a hung jury. She faces a murder charge with a firearm specification, which brings with it a sentence of 18 years to life in prison if she's convicted. The jury was split 7-5 in favor of a guilty verdict during the first trial.
A jury of eight women and four men, plus one male and one female alternate, was selected Monday and heard from a half dozen witnesses on Tuesday. They also had an opportunity to go inside the Oak Trail NE house in the morning before testimony began.
In her opening statement, Stark County Assistant Prosecutor Melissa Day, who is trying the case with Assistant Prosecutor Dennis Barr, outlined some of what the jury will hear during the trial. She said Colleen McKernan, who was a military police officer, was angry with her husband, Rob, when he tried to use illegal drugs at a party New Year's Eve 2014. She told the jury that the autopsy showed no drugs were found in Rob McKernan's system.
Day said the defense will suggest that McKernan was a battered woman, but Day contended McKernan's behavior is the opposite. She called McKernan "confident" and "outspoken," and said that she controlled the household. Day told jurors that McKernan shot her husband in an "alcohol-fueled fit of rage" and committed a "cold-blooded act of murder."
Defense attorneys Laura L. Mills and Maxwell R. Hiltner are representing McKernan. Hiltner painted a picture of the 2006 Perry High grad as a "hometown girl" in his opening statement. He noted that she served in the U.S. Air Force and joined the National Guard. He said Colleen was attracted to Rob because he was charismatic and charming and their relationship progressed quickly. After they were married, "she didn't become his wife, she became a possession," Hiltner told the jury.
Hiltner talked about some of the events the jury will learn from witnesses and seeing evidence in what he called a case of self-defense. He said after the couple left a small party that night, Rob McKernan drove home drunk with his wife in the passenger seat, pulled her out, and forced her into the house with his hand on the back of her neck. He said Colleen McKernan was just about to call the police, like she had done six weeks earlier, when her husband threatened that he would give her a reason to call the police.
She grabbed her gun from the windowsill and tried to leave the house, Hiltner told the jury. When the couple met in the hallway, Hiltner said, Colleen McKernan told her husband to back up and he continued to come toward her, he said. She only remembers firing one shot, Hiltner said. She shot her husband 10 times in mere seconds, he said. Afterward, she did not act like a criminal, he said. She called 911, gave Rob McKernan CPR, and complied with police.
Hiltner told the jury that his client had two choices: "defend her life or to have her life taken."
McKernan, 28, had her eyes downcast during most of Tuesday's testimony. She sniffled, furrowed her brow and appeared upset at times while witnesses recalled events leading up to the shooting.
From the stand
Jurors heard from three of Rob McKernan's friends. All said the couple appeared to be acting normally when they arrived at the small party. A neighbor who had invited the couple to his house to watch the New Year's Eve ball drop on TV that night, also testified.
The McKernans and two other friends left the party for about half an hour to walk to Tucker's Tavern. A surveillance video showed the foursome at the bar. The defense suggested Rob McKernan bought drugs from a friend. Mitch Nickels, a longtime friend of Rob McKernan's, said he recalled Colleen McKernan initiating a discussion with her husband on the walk back from the bar to the party about where money they were going to use for the evening had gone.
Nickels and two other witnesses remembered Colleen McKernan yelling loudly at her husband in the backyard. Brittany Martin, who hosted the party, told the court that she asked the couple to quiet down or leave. In response to questioning, she said she she did not know at the time that someone had brought illegal drugs to her backyard. Nickels testified he saw Rob McKernan bent over a picnic table readying to snort a white substance when his wife stopped him. Nickels said Colleen McKernan told him "this wasn't my fault."
The couple left and drove away. Martin began to cry on the stand when she said she remembered minutes later learning about a Facebook posting stating a wife had just shot her husband.
Massillon Fire Department Capt. Robert Knapp, one of the first to respond to the Oak Trail NE home after the shooting, and police officer Shaun Dadisman also testified. Knapp said firefighters/paramedics were told by police they had arrived at an "active crime scene" and they took care not to disturb anything. He said when they responded he saw Rob McKernan on his back with no signs of life.
Later in the afternoon, jurors saw pictures during Dadisman's testimony showing where spent shell casings were found along the hallway and leading up to Rob McKernan's body. The police officer assisted Detective Jason Gohlike with collecting evidence.
Dadisman is expected to continue his testimony Wednesday. Hartnett asked jurors to return at 8:30 a.m.
Reach Christina at 330-775-1133 or christina.mccune@indeonline.
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