December 20, 2014

Elyria
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Convict’s gun request shot down

ELYRIA — Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Miraldi has shot down a request from a Grafton man convicted of murder to be allowed to use guns for hunting.

It’s typically illegal for convicted felons to use, or even touch, a firearm, but judges have the power to lift that restriction.

Kevin Bernaciak, who was convicted of murder for shooting and killing a man while on a 1986 hunting trip in Coshocton County, had asked to be allowed to carry a gun to hunt deer, rabbits, pheasants and squirrels.

“I can’t comfortably sit here and put a gun in his hand given what happened, even so long ago,” Miraldi said during Wednesday’s hearing.

Kenneth Lieux, Bernaciak’s attorney, had argued that his client was a model prisoner until his release in 2001, successfully completed five years of parole and has lived a law-abiding life since the state stopped monitoring him in 2006.

“He’s accomplished everything we all hope when we send people to prison,” Lieux said.

Assistant County Prosecutor Richard Gronsky said that while Bernaciak should be commended for his rehabilitation, that didn’t mean he should be allowed to carry a gun. He said Bernaciak was asking to carry a weapon into the same setting in which he killed a man decades ago.

According to Coshocton County court records, Bernaciak was on a hunting trip with three friends and the group went into town to drink.

After the group made it back to the trailer they were staying in, Bernaciak shot Anthony Portale in the back with a deer slug from a shotgun. During his trial, Bernaciak’s lawyer argued that his client accidentally shot an out-of-control Portale while trying to get him outside the trailer.

Bernaciak later went to a phone and called police to inform them of the shooting.

After Miraldi handed down his decision, Bernaciak said he tripped and the gun went off. Bernaciak said he’s been over the events of the shooting thousands of times in his mind and feels badly for Portale’s family, but he wasn’t trying to kill his hunting partner.

“I didn’t mean to shoot the guy,” he said.

Lieux said he had hoped Miraldi would give Bernaciak a chance, but he understood the judge’s reasoning. He said murder was the only crime Bernaciak was ever convicted.

“We’re talking about five seconds in a man’s life,” Lieux said.

Bernaciak said he will continue to hunt with bows, something he is legally allowed to do.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147or bdicken@chroniclet.com.