Widow fights back tears after husband’s two killers jailed for 22 and 16 years
The family of a father-of-four who was shot dead protecting his wife and son during a robbery say he can finally rest in peace now that his killer has been jailed for 22 years.
Financial adviser Geoff Kerr was shot through the heart as he bravely wrestled with violent criminal Darren Kernohan, who had forced his way into Mr Kerr’s Templepatrick home in April 2009 to steal his legally-held firearms.
At Downpatrick Crown Court yesterday, sitting in Belfast, Mr Kerr’s widow Sally gasped as Kernohan (35), from Moss Drive in Antrim, was ordered to spend a minimum of 22 years behind bars for the murder.
Kernohan’s accomplice, 51-year-old Larne man Martin Fleming, was also jailed for a minimum of 16 years for murder.
Supported by her four sons, Mrs Kerr fought back tears outside the courthouse yesterday as she said they were now going to try and rebuild their lives.
“We are as pleased as we can be. It is almost as if our prayers were being answered in a way. The best expectations we could have hoped for were achieved. Again, we have mixed emotions; relief and perhaps a certain measure of disbelief,” said Mrs Kerr.
She added: “I do feel that we have done the best we could for Geoff. Nothing is going to bring him back, but at least tonight I will be able to tell him what the ultimate outcome has been, and perhaps we can start to move on with whatever is to become of the rest of our lives.”
Mr and Mrs Kerr and their youngest son Adam were at home when, armed with a fully loaded Glock pistol, Kernohan and Fleming forced their way in after pretending to deliver a Chinese takeaway.
When Mrs Kerr answered the door to the pair, Kernohan pushed her against a wall in the hallway and held the gun to her head.
Hearing the commotion, her husband bravely rushed to her aid and hit Kernohan several times over the head with a soup terrine.
During the struggle Kernohan fired two shots, one of which struck Mr Kerr in the chest, piercing his heart and lungs.
Judge Mr Justice Hart said yesterday that Kernohan “shot his way out of a dilemma” after Mr Kerr “displayed an unexpected and vigorous determination to defend his wife, their son and himself”.
He added: “Kernohan said this was a robbery which went wrong, but it went wrong because he went into the Kerr house carrying a loaded gun which Kernohan was prepared to use, and did use, when he was met with more vigorous and determined resistance than he bargained for.”
The judge told the court that Kernohan had shown no remorse for the murder, which was “committed in circumstances that exposed Mrs Kerr and her son to the horror of seeing their husband and father dying before their eyes”.
Jailing Fleming for 16 years, Mr Justice Hart said that he did not fire the shots, and that he had written a letter to the court expressing remorse for his part in the events of that night.
A third man, a mother and her daughter, also appeared in the dock on charges connected with the murder.
Laurence Kincaid (60), of Upper Hightown Road, Belfast, received a 12-month suspended jail term for withholding information from police.
Margaret Deery (63), and her daughter Siobhann Clyde (34), both of Willowtree Park, Newtownabbey, also received a 12-month suspended jail term for perverting the course of justice.
Emotional statements by family lay bare the anguish
Geoff Kerr’s wife Sally and his son Adam, who were both in the house on the night of his murder, wrote emotional letters to the court detailing how his death has devastated the family.
In her letter Sally Kerr said: “The violence and venom that permeated our home that night was a palpable, terrifying thing and it robbed us, not just of Geoff, but also of any chance to let him know just how much he was loved and to give him the dignity he deserved.
“Seeing him lying in a pool of his own blood and being forced to leave him there was the most unimaginably cruel wrench, and is something from which Adam and I will never fully recover.
“I can’t begin to adequately convey just how devastating Geoff’s murder has been. I cannot believe the audacity of these people who didn’t know Geoff or anything about our life, and who clearly didn’t care a single jot about us.
“How they could believe that they had the right to desecrate the sanctity of a man’s home and take anything at all, even just material possessions, is something that is beyond my comprehension.”
The couple’s youngest son Adam said: “The memory of the night of Monday 27 will never leave me. And while the perpetrators of this act may forget the images of how they left my father that night, I most certainly will not.
“My father and my family are the victims of this whole affair — one robbed of life, the others robbed of a man who meant more than the world to them, the cornerstone of our family. In honour of his memory and so that he may finally rest in peace, Dad deserves justice for the sacrifice he made that night.”
Thuggish murderers with shocking criminal records
Geoff Kerr, a devoted father and loving husband, was brutally murdered by two extremely violent career criminals.
Darren Ivan Kernohan was on probation at the time he murdered Mr Kerr. He had been released early from jail where he served just a few months of an |18-month sentence for being in possession of a firearm.
If he had served his full sentence he would not have set foot in Mr Kerr’s home on April 27, 2009 and the 60-year-old would still be alive today.
In fact, had Kernohan served the full sentence imposed by another court in March 2003, when he was jailed for six-and-a-half years for killing three people in a car crash, after he smashed head-on into the vehicle as he drunkenly fled from police, he would have been in jail on the night he shot Mr Kerr dead. At the time of the fatal crash that claimed the lives of a brother and sister and their friend, he should have been in jail serving a 40-month sentence for attacking a man with a broken glass. But again he had been released early.
Kernohan was in and out of jail for most of his adult life for a number of violent offences.
In February 1997 he broke a man’s nose outside Xtra-Vision in Antrim after headbutting him.
A year later, while on probation, he attacked a man with a broken glass outside a bar in Dunadry. His victim was hospitalised, his injuries so serious that he had to undergo micro-surgery.
Judge Mr Justice Hart told the court yesterday that in considering the appropriate sentence to impose on Kernohan, one of the aggravating factors of the case was his past convictions of violence.
“Another aggravating feature of the case is that when he committed this murder he was under the probation element of the custody probation order imposed on May 9, 2008,” the judge added.
He also said that Kernohan presents a risk of serious harm to others.
Kernohan’s accomplice on the night of Mr Kerr’s murder, Martin Fleming, also has an exceptionally bad criminal record, with a string of crimes of violence and dishonesty.
His record includes 18 burglaries, one robbery, six assaults on police and a conviction for escaping from custody.