A Summit County jury on Thursday found Kenan Ivery guilty of aggravated murder in last year’s shooting death of an off-duty Akron police officer at Papa Don’s Pub.
Justin Winebrenner, 32, died in the early hours of Nov. 16, about 30 minutes after being shot twice in the torso while trying to defuse a tense situation at the East Market Street nightspot.
Ivery, 36, was convicted of 14 out of 15 charges in his capital murder indictment. He was found not guilty of tampering with evidence.
With the convictions, Ivery could now face the death penalty in the sentencing phase of his trial. Common Pleas Judge Alison McCarty instructed the same panel that returned the guilty verdicts to report to the courthouse at 9 a.m. Tuesday to begin those proceedings.
In a somber courtroom — filled beyond capacity by more than 70 family members and friends from both sides, along with numerous uniformed Akron cops — many quietly wept when the verdict in Count One, aggravated murder, was read by the jury foreman.
Kelly Campbell, Winebrenner’s sister, was seated in the front row of the gallery next to her husband. As soon as he heard the word “guilty” in Count One, he softly whispered “Yes.”
Afterward, the slain officer’s father, Rob Winebrenner, a retired Barberton policeman, stood among family members and friends in the courtroom lobby, dabbing at tears in his eyes as a team of deputies prepared to take Ivery back to the county jail.
“He won the fight. We won the battle. We won the war,” Rob Winebrenner said, declining to say anything more with the sentencing phase of the trial coming up next week.
Ivery, dressed in a sweater vest, buttoned-down dress shirt and slacks, stood between his two lawyers at the defense table as his fate was being announced. He showed no visible sign of emotion, mostly staring straight ahead, as the string of guilty verdicts was read.
Within four hours after the verdicts, hundreds had gone to the Facebook page, Justice for Justin, with his police badge number 1301 starkly alone in the middle of a field of vibrant blue.
“I have been praying for justice for Justin. I now pray for healing for the family. The prosecutor did a wonderful job. God bless all of Justin’s loved ones,” Mary Kaufman Gulledge wrote.
Bob Leslie posted; “Amen, now the family can try and rebuild.”
Heather Wolfie Schueller wrote: “Prayers for all, may they all find some sort of peace with this verdict.”
And there was this post from Pam Smith: “Justice for Charlee too!!!”
Charlee is Justin Winebrenner’s daughter. She was 4 when her father was killed nearly a year ago.
During the trial, the prosecution showed evidence that Ivery returned to the bar, angry and seeking revenge, after he was kicked out for unwanted advances toward several women.
Prosecutors insisted that Ivery purposely killed Winebrenner and acted with prior calculation and design — two essential elements that must be met in order to convict on aggravated murder.
The defense, however, maintained Ivery returned to the pub to pick up a forgotten box of chicken wings and ended up firing his gun in self-defense. Four shots were fired during a confrontation with Winebrenner and two other pub patrons who pushed Ivery backward through the doorway after he had pulled his gun from his waistband.
As he tumbled over a table near the door, losing his glasses and shouting, the first shot was heard on the pub security videos.
“That’s when I really feared for my life,” Ivery told the jury when he took the stand last week.
He was armed with a .40-caliber handgun and didn’t deny using it, even though he was prohibited under Ohio law from even being in close proximity to a gun at any time since being convicted of two drug felonies in February 2008.
Akron Police Chief James Nice and former Chief Craig Gilbride sat next to each other in the front row of the gallery as the courtroom quickly filled up before the 10;30 a.m. scheduled start of the jury’s decision.
So many came, McCarty’s court assistants had to set up chairs to accommodate everyone. Many more uniformed Akron officers stood outside, unable to get in. They all had black bands, in honor of Winebrenner, across their police badges.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or firstname.lastname@example.org.