Jurors from Colleen McKernan's first and second trials provide insight into what went on during deliberations. The former Massillon woman charged with killing her husband might be headed for a third trial.
If roles were reversed, and a man were being tried for killing his wife by shooting her 10 times, then a conviction might have been more likely, say some jurors from Colleen McKernan's first and second murder trials.
Stark County residents divulged some of what went on behind the jury room's closed doors during deliberations for what has become a high-profile case garnering national media attention.
Two mistrials in this case of a woman accused of murdering her husband of eight months have resulted from juries this spring and summer unable to reach unanimous decisions.
McKernan could be headed for a rare third trial. A hearing is scheduled for Nov. 10 in Stark County Common Pleas Court.
Deciding whether the 28-year-old McKernan purposefully killed her husband nearly two years ago, or fired her gun to save her life, has not been easy.
According to evidence and testimony, jurors in both trials learned that 10 bullets fired from Colleen McKernan's gun hit Rob McKernan in his face and body within the last hour of 2014 in a hallway inside the couple's Massillon home.
"My opinion is nobody shoots somebody 10 times and hits every vital organ and says it was an accident," said Michael Iagulli, of Nimishillen Township, who sat on the jury in the first trial, in April. "If it was a man, I feel he would be in prison — no questions asked."
A male juror in the second trial in August, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was steadfast in his decision that McKernan was not guilty.
"I thought she wasn't guilty because he more or less abused her," he said. "I don't want to send someone to jail who has been abused."
He mentioned an instance in which McKernan said her husband had smothered her with a pillow until she was unconscious and he had revived her in a cold shower.
Colleen McKernan has testified that her husband was coming toward her and she shot him in self-defense. She thought he had taken drugs at a party that night and was going to seriously harm or kill her. She has said she does not remember pulling the trigger 10 times.
After a two-week trial in April, seven of the 12 jurors thought McKernan was guilty after more than two days of deliberations. In August, again after nearly two weeks of testimony and 2 1/2 days of deliberating, jurors leaned toward guilty, 9-3.
Last month, McKernan, who has been on house arrest with a family member in Stark County, asked to live with her father and stepmother in New York while she awaits her next court appearance. A motion from her attorneys stated McKernan was indigent and that she requested the move to seek a job, as well as for safety reasons after being subjected to threats to her life over social media. Judge Chryssa Hartnett denied the request.
McKernan faces 18 years to life in prison if convicted of murder with a firearm specification.
"I hope she gets what she deserves," Iagulli said. "I don't think it was right that she's running free right now."
Iagulli was serving on a jury for the first time. "Emotionally," he said, "it was very stressful when you're trying to decide on somebody's life."
He said that the case sounded like self-defense at first. During deliberations, jurors who thought McKernan guilty tried to argue with the ones who agreed with self-defense. Iagulli said there was no evidence that Rob McKernan abused his wife. And if he did abuse her, Iagulli said, he believed that McKernan, who served in U.S. armed forces, could have stood up for herself without killing him.
"The more stuff that got brought up, I didn't see anything brought up until a month or two before he was killed, about him abusing her," Iagulli said. "We tried to fight that argument when we were deliberating. We fought and fought to try to change these guys' minds, and they kept saying, 'No, it's self-defense.' Where do you see the self-defense in that? I see no evidence of self-defense whatsoever. If it was actually physical like she said it was, where are the marks on you? Where are all the pictures of bruises, broken arms or anything like that?"
The juror from the second trial who wished to remain anonymous said a person doesn't have to have marks on their bodies to show abuse.
"The prosecutor kept bringing up that there's no bruises on her," he said. "You don't have to be bruised up in order to get beaten up."
The juror used an analogy of a spider bite to help describe his thinking about the incident. When you've been bitten by a spider, and you see that spider again and it's coming toward you, he explained, you'll hit that spider with the first thing you can grab and you'll keep hitting it until it's dead.
A juror from the first trial who thought McKernan was guilty and requested that his name not be published said what makes this case difficult is that "there's not that much evidence. It's mainly just based on her testimony. The evidence didn't present itself one way or another."
In the April trial, Defense Attorney Ian Friedman said during his closing remarks to the jury that "Colleen is evidence. For you to not find self-defense, you would have to disregard every single word she said."
Just like those close to this case, jurors say they would like to see closure.
Scott Noling, of Minerva, said he still thinks about the case every so often, and he'll never be able to get out of his mind the images he viewed as a juror during the first trial, such as photos of Rob McKernan after he was shot. Noling kept up with the second trial, which was streamed daily on LawNewz.com. He said he was relieved that another jury was unable to come to a unanimous decision.
"I said, 'Let's just go step by step through the jury instructions,'" he recalled. "In the first trial, we asked for clarification. I found it interesting the second jurors needed clarification on the instructions, also. That tells me there's a problem there."
He said that because the case garnered national attention, he imagines other people want to see how the case will end, and they might be asking why Stark County can't come to a conclusion. But it's not so easy when you're a juror, he said.
"How can it get so deluded during a trial?" he said. "How can you not find her guilty? She shot 10 times. That's overkill. Once you sit in that seat, it's a whole different story."
He said real-life court is not like court TV shows.
"Everybody's looking for a DNA or definitive moment," he said. "It doesn't happen that way in life."
Noling also was interviewed by CourtChatter.com, which provides information, live streaming and a forum to chat about high-profile cases. He said he'll watch to see if there will be a third trial, or future court action until the case is closed.
He said one of the things that has stuck with him was how McKernan demonstrated on the stand how her husband put up his hands when she pointed the gun at him.
"She put them up, but not in a fashion like (Rob's hands) were coming at her to attack her. She put them up in defense. There's no fact based on it, but I think Rob was just done. He was upset he had gotten into an argument. He had his keys, he had his phone, he had his coat on. He had his little straw. I think he was on his way out the door."
He said the booking video, which showed McKernan using expletives and angrily yelling when she heard others talking and laughing outside her room, swayed some jurors. Noling agreed with Iagulli about gender bias.
"I simply asked the question: 'OK, all evidence being exactly the same, just switch the bodies — she's on the floor and he's claiming self-defense.' Everybody said guilty," Noling recalled. "I asked them before we got done deliberating. We were still in deliberations. The few holdouts weren't explaining."
Jurors from the first trial had thousands of text messages they had the option of sorting through. Noling said not everyone read all the text messages that were provided. Those text conversations revealed to him the nature of the relationship.
"Robert deserves more," he said. "He deserves better. This is a volatile relationship. It became clear to me that he was frustrated, not angry. He was sorry. She learned very quickly how to push his buttons, in my opinion."
He said with the first jury, technically seven found McKernan guilty and four found her not guilty with one juror undecided. He said that juror explained her head told her one thing but her heart told her another.
"It got emotional at the end," Noling said. "Not heated. It was just more frustrating. People just got frustrated. Those of us pleading, begging: 'Tell us why we're wrong. Tell us why you believe what you say.' They never did. They don't have to."
Noling said he would have liked to have learned more about Colleen's background and heard from ex-boyfriends. The juror in the second trial who found she was not guilty said he also would have liked to have heard some people testify about Colleen's character and history.
Another juror in the second trial who wished to remain anonymous said he thought 10 shots were excessive.
"I stayed on the fence the whole time," he said. "She was innocent up until that point. I think she should be serving time for excessive shooting. I think the fight was over when he went to the kitchen. I think she started it when she pulled the gun."
He said the experts brought in and animated videos shown didn't help. He still wasn't told which shot was fired first. He said there were holes in Colleen McKernan's testimony and he was left with questions. He said he wondered why she went out drinking with her husband and at the same time she said his drinking was a problem.
"I've got a hard time believing," he said. "She's military-trained. She didn't put a fight up at all. That's your lifeline to get away from a crazy guy. This guy's known to beat her around and leave. If the story's true, I think he was leaving the house."
He said he didn't know there had been a first trial.
"Our hands were tied because we had two options: guilty or not guilty," he said. "It's hard to get 12 people to agree on anything."
He said sitting for nearly three days in a hot room didn't make the decision any easier.
"I've got a bad feeling she's going to walk," he said. "If she does this again, that's on her."
Noling said if the case goes for a third trial, he anticipates the outcome will be the same.
"What can they do that they didn't do the first two?"
Reach Christina at 330-775-1133 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @cmccuneINDE.
See a video of one of the jurors from the first trial speaking about why he found Colleen McKernan guilty of murder.