‘You erased your life’: Indiana man sentenced to 179 years in prison for double murder

VALPARAISO, Ind. — An Indiana man convicted of fatally shooting two teenagers during a drug-related robbery was sentenced to 179 years in prison on Tuesday.

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Connor Kerner, 19, of Valparaiso, was found guilty Oct. 22 for the Feb. 25, 2019, murders of Thomas M. Grill Jr., 18, of Cedar Lake, and Molley R. Lanham, 19, of St. John, the Northwest Indiana Times reported. Kerner was 17 at the time of the murders, the newspaper reported. A jury took less than 4 1/2 hours to reach its verdict, convicting Kerner of two counts of murder, two counts of murder in the perpetration of a robbery, two counts of robbery and a single felony count of arson, the Chicago Tribune reported. The jury found him not guilty on a felony charge of intimidation.

Porter Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford, who handed down what he called a “de facto” life sentence, described the shooting and beating death of Grill as “one of the worst I’ve ever seen” and said Lanham’s execution-style shooting death was “almost Mafioso.”

Kerner, who showed no outward reaction Tuesday, said he plans to appeal the sentence, the Tribune reported.

“Unfortunately, there are no winners in a case such as this but it does provide justice to the families for the loss of Thomas Grill and Molley Lanham,” Porter County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Armando Salinas told the Tribune after the sentencing. “This was an outstanding investigation by the Porter County Sheriff’s Department and a victory for the community.”

According to a police report, Kerner allegedly told an informant he shot Grill in the Hebron-area garage of his grandparents’ home after Grill tried to rob him during a drug deal, the Times reported.

“Grill fell to the ground and was begging for his life,” the report stated. “Kerner advised that he panicked due to being out of bullets in the gun. Kerner then beat (Grill) with a pipe wrench until he died.”

Kerner then showed Grill’s body to Lanham, court records alleged. Kerner warned Lanham not to say anything about the death, and, as she turned to leave, shot her in the head, according to police.

Kerner loaded the two bodies into the trunk of the teens’ Honda Civic, using various containers of flammable liquids to set the vehicle on fire, the Times reported.

Patricia Grill, mother of Thomas Grill, spoke at the sentencing hearing and accused Kerner of attempting to erase her son and Lanham by murdering them and burning their bodies nearly beyond recognition.

“You erased your life, Connor,” Patricia Grill said. “You did that to yourself, Connor.”

“You tried to erase Thomas and Molley. You cannot. You have taken Thomas and Molley from their families but they are forever in our hearts. You will live in prison the rest of your life.”

Stacy Spejewski, Lanham’s mother, said in her comments to the court that she is still numb.

“I don’t know how to go on without her,” she said. “I am now the mother of a murdered child.

“Rehabilitation is not an option for you,” Spejewski told Kerner. “You are beyond evil.”

“Connor Kerner thought he could kill my sister and throw her away like garbage and walk away,” Lindsey Lanham said. “I’m sure she was so scared and so alone as she was killed senselessly by Connor Kerner.”

Kerner’s mother, Roxann Kerner, 47, of Chesterton, who was charged last month with attempting to cover up her son’s role in the crime, is scheduled to appear Wednesday before a county magistrate, the Times reported.

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