After two-and-a-half days of deliberating, a jury remained deadlocked in Colleen McKernan's murder trial. A third trial is a possibility, says Stark County Prosecutor John D. Ferrero.

CANTON  The fate of Colleen McKernan remains unclear after a second trial ended with a hung jury Friday in the shooting death of her husband, Rob, on New Year's Eve 2014.

Jurors deadlocked following more than two days of deliberations in Stark County Common Pleas Court.

Options include a third trial, dismissing the murder charge or a plea agreement with a lesser charge such as involuntary manslaughter. A jury of eight women and four men couldn't reach a verdict on whether McKernan committed murder or defended herself.

One unconfirmed report put the jury vote at 9 to 3 in favor of conviction. Juries must unanimously agree on the verdict.

In last April's trial, jurors deadlocked 7 to 5 in support of a conviction. The first jury was composed of 10 men and two women. Both times, McKernan faced 18 years to life in prison, if convicted.

Judge Chryssa Hartnett declared the mistrial late Friday afternoon as family members and supporters of both Colleen and Rob packed the courtroom. The atmosphere was tense as a jury foreman told the judge that more deliberations would not result in a unanimous verdict.

The decision was not an easy one. Did the 28-year-old Perry High School graduate who served in the U.S. Air Force murder her husband, Rob, by firing 10 shots into his face and body following a night of drinking and arguing? Or was she frightened for her life, firing in self-defense so she could escape their northeast Massillon home safely?  

Hartnett set another pretrial court hearing for Oct. 7. 

"A third trial is definitely possible," said Stark County Prosecutor John D. Ferrero via telephone later Friday. "As of right now, that's on the table." 

A dismissal or plea bargain agreement also are options.

"It's been a long two weeks, a trying two weeks," Ferrero said.  

Until the next court hearing, the defendant's bond remains unchanged and McKernan is free on house arrest, Ferrero said. She is staying with relatives in western Stark County. 

McKernan's father, Gary Owen, said he will continue to fight for his daughter and a self-defense verdict. 

"We're thankful for the jurors," he said. "We're thankful for their service."

Exiting the courtroom with his daughter and other family members, Owen said, "We support Colleen and we're ready for round three."

He said as long as the state of Ohio works to convict his daughter of murder, he will continue to fight for Colleen, who he says was protecting herself.   

Emotional trial

For the second time this year, McKernan sat in a nearly full but quiet courtroom, only to find out jurors deadlocked. McKernan was indicted in March 2015 on a murder charge with a firearm specification.

Jurors emerged mid-morning and got instruction from Hartnett before resuming deliberations. At 3:30 p.m, at least one juror appeared tearful as the group filed in. One of McKernan's family members became emotional and was comforted by another before the mistrial was declared. The defendant appeared composed. 

Hartnett reminded those in attendance to continue to follow decorum as they had throughout the nearly two-week trial. "I understand this is incredibly frustrating for everyone involved," the judge said. 

Rob McKernan's mother, Kathie, left the courthouse in tears. She and other family members declined to comment. Assistant Stark County Prosecutors Dennis Barr and Melissa Day declined to comment, citing the pending case. Defense attorneys Mawell Hiltner and Laura Mills also declined to comment.

Numerous people reacted on The Independent's and The Canton Repository's Facebook pages, posing questions on Twitter about the next steps in the case. Ferrero explained that prosecutors will next contact the jurors and seek input from Rob McKernan's family. The prosecutor's office will "re-evaluate everything and go from there," he said.

Ferrero said jurors are not required to talk to prosecutors following a trial. He said he does not remember a prior case going to a third trial.   

According to court records, there have been a dozen mistrials in Stark County Common Pleas since 2010.

"There's a lot of information we'd like to know," Ferrero said. "You need to know what the jurors are thinking."

He said jurors heard "a lot of instructions and law read to them. That's what we have to know if they based it on that, or did they believe it was self-defense, or did they believe we didn't prove our case, or more evidence. Those are the kinds of things you like to know if this case goes to trial a third time. We may not ever find out. We have been fortunate to talk to other jurors in cases to see if we did something wrong. The defense has the same opportunity to talk to them. I think in this case we'll look at that and that will play into the decision as to how we proceed."

Following the mistrial, five jurors declined to comment when questioned by the Repository as they left the courthouse. 

Tough call

Jurors were presented with testimony that Colleen had shot her husband of eight months in the narrow hallway of their Massillon home. They had to decide whether she purposefully intended to kill him, or whether she shot in self defense. He had been shot 10 times, including twice in the face. McKernan said she only remembered pulling the trigger once. She called 911 and is heard on a recording doing CPR.

Family members and supporters of both Colleen's and Rob's attended the trial daily after it began on Aug. 23. Proceedings were moved to a different courtroom this time to accommodate spectators.  

The second trial echoed the first one with the jury deadlocked in its decision mid-morning Friday. 

The central argument was the same: Did McKernan commit murder? Or did she kill her husband to save her own life? Previous violent encounters in the marriage were outlined during the trial. McKernan testified that during one instance, her husband put a pillow over her face until she lost consciousness and she was awakened by him in a cold shower.

But details about the events leading up to the shooting may have led to the hung jury. Witness testimony and experts differed on whether McKernan qualified as a battered woman.

Repository staff writer Ed Balint contributed to this report.

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