Charges added for man held in 2019 deaths of Lake County teens

John Silva II - Original Credit: Post-Tribune

John Silva II - Original Credit: Post-Tribune (Porter County Sheriffs Dept. / HANDOUT)

The co-defendant in a murder case involving two West Lake County teenagers allegedly killed after a drug deal gone bad now faces additional felony counts of attempted robbery.

Porter Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford entered preliminary pleas of not guilty for John Silva II, 19, of Hamlet, during a brief Monday court hearing.

Silva was charged May 22 with two counts of murder in the perpetration of a robbery in the Feb. 25, 2019 deaths of Thomas Grill, 18, of Cedar Lake, and Molley Lanham, 19, of St. John and is being held at the jail without bond.

Connor Kerner

Connor Kerner (Porter County Sheriffs Dept. / P / Chicago Tribune)

Connor Kerner, 19, of the 100 block of Kinsale, Valparaiso, remains at the Porter County Jail without bond on two counts of murder and additional felony counts of intimidation and arson in the case. Kerner, arrested in the days after the alleged crimes, has pleaded not guilty.

The latest counts against Silva are Level 2 felonies. Those charges carry a sentence of 10 to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. The murder charges carry a sentence of 45 to 65 years in prison each.

Ken Elwood, Silva’s attorney, said he continues to work through discovery with prosecutors.

“Obviously it’s a very unique case,” he said, noting the time lag between the alleged crime and when charges were filed against his client.

Thomas Grill, 18, of Cedar Lake and Molley Lanham, 19, of St. John.

Thomas Grill, 18, of Cedar Lake and Molley Lanham, 19, of St. John. (Provided by St. John Police)

Bradford set a pretrial hearing for 9 a.m. Aug. 31 for Silva on all of the counts he is facing.

According to charging documents, video surveillance at Valparaiso High School captured Silva and Kerner leaving the building at 10:16 a.m. on Feb. 25, 2019, after exchanging texts on an encrypted message app about what appears to be a drug deal.

Silva, according to the documents, told police he and Kerner left the high school in Kerner’s Jeep Grand Cherokee and traveled to Kerner’s grandparents’ home in Hebron to meet with Grill and Lanham.

Silva told police he turned off his location services on his cellphone settings when he and Kerner got in the Jeep to go to Hebron.

“Silva stated he observed Kerner retrieve a black handgun from the Jeep’s glove compartment before they entered the house,” documents state.

Silva took a seat in the basement and a short time later, he heard Kerner meeting with two people upstairs.

“Silva then stated that he heard six shots and Connor Kerner called for him, saying, ‘John, John,’” documents state.

Silva ran upstairs and entered the garage, where he saw Lanham lying motionless face down. He saw Grill near the man door to the garage, lying face down but still alive and making noises.

“Silva stated that Kerner gave him microfiber towels to start wiping up blood, which he did. He advised that he observed Kerner grab a wrench and his back swing prior to striking Thomas (Grill),” documents state.

Kerner loaded the bodies into a Honda Civic that belonged to Lanham’s stepfather, Silva told police, while he placed the bloody towels in a white trash bag. Kerner handed him the gun, which was placed on a towel and Silva wrapped the gun in the towel and placed it in the trash bag with the bloody towels, documents state.

Silva took the trash bag to the Jeep and noticed blood on his sleeve cuffs and his shoe and waited in the Jeep until Kerner joined him and they left.

Kerner burned the Honda Civic in a wooded area not far from his grandparents’ home, court documents have said, and later told an informant about the crime, as well as showing her the wooded area where the car was. She later reported the murders to police.

Amy Lavalley is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.

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