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Wisconsin woman convicted of intentional homicide says victim liked to drink vodka and Visine

Death by Eye Drops
Death by Eye Drops 41:49

In October 2023, in the courtroom of Judge Jennifer Dorow, 39-year-old Jessy Kurczewski went on trial for the intentional homicide of 62-year-old Lynn Hernan, along with two counts of felony theft for stealing from Hernan — someone who'd always thought of Kurczewski as a beloved friend.

Five years earlier, Kurczewski called police and told them she found Hernan dead, sitting in her recliner, in the living room of her Pewaukee, Wisconsin condo. Kurczewski  had been taking care of Hernan, who had serious medical problems.

THE TRIAL OF JESSY KURCZEWSKI

The prosecutors for Waukesha County were Deputy District Attorney Abbey Nickolie and Assistant District Attorneys J.J. Crawford and Randy Sitzberger.

RANDY SITZBERGER (in court): Good afternoon, everyone. … So, this is Wisconsin versus Jessy Kurczewski. Said otherwise, this is a case of murder, greed and lies. … you're going to see that, in or about October 3, 2018, Lynn Hernan became worth more dead than alive to Kurczewski .

Stephanie Rodriguez: Prosecutors told the jury … that this case was about someone who wanted money.

Stephanie Rodriguez covered the trial for the CBS affiliate in Milwaukee.

Stephanie Rodriguez: And prosecutors said … that that's why she was caring for her. Not because she genuinely cared, but that Jessy wanted the money in her bank account.

RANDY SITZBERGER (in court): Between January of '16 and October 3 of 2018, Ms. Kurczewski  was able to steal $144,000-plus from Lynn Hernan while she was still alive.

Stephanie Rodriguez: And then she wanted Lynn dead to get the money from her estate.

RANDY SITZBERGER (in court): Lynn Hernan was … dead at only 62 years old from a tetrahydrozoline poisoning after the defendant gave her a bottle laced with Visine eye drops to drink.

Jessy Kurczewski, left, and Lynn Hernan
Jessy Kurczewski, left, and Lynn Hernan Wisconsin Department of Corrections/Court Pool of Defense Opening Statement

But the defense presented Kurczewski as a close friend who took care of Hernan — who they claimed was depressed about her declining health.

PABLO GALAVIZ (in court): This case is extremely important to Jessy. … She's presumed innocent. … And don't ever let that thought leave your mind, that she's presumed innocent.

At trial, Kurczewski was represented by defense attorneys Pablo Galaviz and Donna Kuchler.

PABLO GALAVIZ (in court): Here's a picture of Lynn and Jessy, a graduation party that Lynn threw for Jessy, high school.

At the mention of her close relationship with Hernan, Kurczewski immediately teared up.

PABLO GALAVIZ (in court): "This is my daughter," she's so proud …

PABLO GALAVIZ (in court): That's who Jessy is to Lynn, her daughter …

Kurczewski had known Hernan since childhood, through her mother, Jennifer Flower.

PABLO GALAVIZ (in court): Jennifer's like her best, best friend. And Jessy became her best, best friend.

Hernan, who worked most of her life as a hairdresser, never married, and lived alone. Then, in the two years before her death, her health rapidly declined.

Stephanie Rodriguez: There were times where Lynn would fall in her home, and Jessy would have to go and help her get up.

Hernan also had lung disease, high blood pressure and severe gastrointestinal issues which doctors were never able to fully diagnose. She had been in and out of the hospital several times in the year before she died.

Stephanie Rodriguez: Jessy was always with Lynn because she became her full-time caretaker, essentially. … Jessy would do the grocery shopping for Lynn. Jessy paid Lynn's bills.

PABLO GALAVIZ (in court): Jessy was the only person she trusted.

The defense told the jury that as Hernan's health further deteriorated, she became despondent.

PABLO GALAVIZ (in court): And you saw the way she was done up with the hair and nails and jewelry, she didn't look like that anymore. …  She didn't want any more visitors because she didn't look, in her mind, the same.

The defense argued that on Oct. 3, 2018, Hernan was tired of being sick, and decided to take her own life.

PABLO GALAVIZ (in court): When they arrived on the scene … They found a lot of empty prescription bottles. ... And they can't see that as a suicide? … She's innocent. Find her not guilty.

One of the first orders of business for prosecutors was to establish the cause of death. Former Waukesha County Deputy Medical Examiner Tabitha Kukes talked to jurors about those pictures she took when she arrived at Hernan's condo.

hernan-prescriptions.jpg
A photo of Lynn Hernan's prescription bottles that were on a table next to her recliner. First responders at the scene said it looked like Hernan had possibly died from an accidental overdose, or by taking her own life.  Waukesha County Circuit Courts

TABITHA KUKES (in court): This is a closeup of the medication bottles that were directly to her left … There's additional medications that are present, some without their caps on.

Kukes had photographed multiple medications scattered on the carpet, as well as a white powder on a plate, and on Hernan's chest. Defense attorney Kuchler suggests the powder was spilled by Hernan herself.

DONNA KUCHLER (in court): Jessy told you it was common for Lynn to crush medications because of her problems swallowing.

TABITHA KUKES: That's what she told me.

Jurors heard from Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Lynda Biedrzycki who testified about those photos taken in Hernan's living room. She said the pills and powder scattered at the scene did point to a potential suicide.

DR. LYNDA BIEDRZYCKI (in court): There was a thought that maybe there was a — an ingestion was a possibility for the cause of death.

But before pronouncing the cause of death, Dr. Biedrzycki waited to see the results from the toxicology tests. When she received them weeks later, she was in for a surprise.

DR. LYNDA BIEDRZYCKI (in court): There was a substance that I was — unusual … an unusual finding that I hadn't seen in a report from their, uh, facility before. It was, uh, called tetrahydrozoline.

Dr. Biedrzycki began her own research on tetrahydrozoline, a drug found in some over-the-counter eye drops.

DR. LYNDA BIEDRZYCKI (in court): This is a, um, a substance that I haven't seen in a toxicology report before. … it's not supposed to be in the blood.

But how did it get there?

DEATH BY EYE DROPS

Medical Examiner Dr. Lynda Biedrzycki told the jury it was in late September 2019, almost a year after Lynn Hernan's death, that she published her official conclusion about how Hernan died.

DR. LYNDA BIEDRZYCKI: The cause of death I determined was tetrahydrozoline poisoning.

And Biedrzycki ruled that Hernan did not deliberately drink a fatal dose of eye drops.

DR. LYNDA BIEDRZYCKI:  How this injury occurred is that she was given tetrahydrozoline by another, which is why I called it a homicide.

Stephanie Rodriguez: The belief that Lynn Hernan was given tetrahydrozoline by another shows that she was given this unsuspectingly. She didn't know that she was ingesting tetrahydrozoline when she did it.

The defense challenged the medical examiner's findings.

DONNA KUCHLER (in court): These are all the drugs that were found in Ms. Hernan … right?

DR. LYNDA BIEDRZYCKI: Correct.

Stephanie Rodriguez: Toxicology reports showed that Lynn had at least eight prescription drugs in her system, some of which Lynn was not supposed to be taking at the time because those medications had been discontinued by Lynn's doctors.

DONNA KUCHLER (in court): And these were all in her blood, which means they'd already been ingested and made it into the blood stream.

DR. LYNDA BIEDRZYCKI: True.

Biedrzycki said that in her determination, those medications, along with some of Hernan's medical conditions, contributed to but did not cause Hernan's death.

Stephanie Rodriguez: The medications found in Lynn's body were all at therapeutic levels.

DONNA KUCHLER (in court): Your conclusion was that she died from the tetrahydrozoline, right?

DR. LYNDA BIEDRZYCKI: That — Yes.

But the defense asked how could the medical examiner be so certain Hernan did not ingest the eye drops on her own?

DONNA KUCHLER (in court): You don't know as you sit there today whether she voluntarily ingested that.

DR. LYNDA BIEDRZYCKI: It was my opinion she didn't, but knowledge of her action, no.

DONNA KUCHLER: You weren't there.

DR. LYNDA BIEDRZYCKI: I wasn't there.

On redirect, Deputy D.A. Nickolie asked about the powder found on and near Hernan's body.

ABBEY NICKOLIE (in court): What do you think happened?

DR. LYNDA BIEDRZYCKI: I think that they may have been deposited there.

Stephanie Rodriguez: The medical examiner believed that Lynn Hernan's body was staged to look like an overdose, because … toxicology reports showed that none of the crushed up medication that was found on Lynn Hernan and next to her was actually in her system.

The following day, the jury heard from some of Hernan's friends.

RANDY SITZBERGER (in court): Did you know Lynn Hernan?

JIM KELLIHER: Yes, I did.

Jim Kelliher met Lynn Hernan at a music festival in 1983, when she was 27.

Jericka Duncan: What was your first impression?

Jim Kelliher: That a lady that looked that good wouldn't go out with me (laughs).

Lynn Hernan
Lynn Hernan Jim Kelliher

But Hernan said yes and their romantic relationship lasted 10 years. Even after it ended, they remained close friends.

Jim Kelliher: Lynn was a beautiful lady. … inside and out, she was beautiful.

Kelliher says he never met Kurczewski  until right after Hernan died.

Jim Kelliher: I get a phone call from Jessy and she says, I have some bad news. Lynn … committed suicide. … and by the way, uh, we're gonna have a dinner for her on the 13th at the Open Flame Restaurant.

Jericka Duncan: She said in one sentence —

Jim Kelliher: Correct.

Jericka Duncan: — your dear friend died by suicide.

Jim Kelliher: Right.

Jericka Duncan: The next sentence, she tells you there's gonna be a dinner in her memory.

Jim Kelliher: Right …

Jericka Duncan: What did you make of that?

Jim Kelliher: Well, I didn't — I kind of didn't believe her right off the bat. She wasn't crying.

On the stand, Kelliher says he didn't believe Hernan would have taken her own life.

RANDY SITZBERGER (in court): Did you ever hear Lynn say anything to you about thinking of killing herself?

JIM KELLIHER: No, I did not. … She … never, never gave me the indication of suicidal. Never.

He said that despite her growing frustration with her health problems, Hernan would still visit him and his girlfriend at their home.

JIM KELLIHER (in court): She'd bring treats and stuff … She would say she got stomach aches or whatever, and she would always leave.

But the defense questioned whether Kelliher really knew much about Hernan's health struggles. In the last year of Hernan's life, she'd been in and out of the hospital, discharged the final time just five days before her death.

PABLO GALAVIZ (in court): Did you offer to go over there and take care of her cat when she was in the hospital?

JIM KELLIHER: No, I did not …

PABLO GALAVIZ:  You didn't go visit her — ?

JIM KELLIHER: No, I did not.

Prosecutors also called Koreen Pozza.

Koreen Pozza: We are best friends for about 35-plus years.

And they called Koreen Pozza's son Anthony Pozza, who says he always had a special bond with Hernan since childhood.

Jericka Duncan: What did you call Lynn?

Anthony Pozza: Auntie Lynnie.

Anthony Pozza says he stayed close to Hernan, regularly dropping by her condo while he attended college nearby.

Anthony Pozza: I loved doing stuff with her. … you know, thrift store shopping … you know, that was a date we would go on is go thrift store shopping.

RANDY SITZBERGER (in court):  Do you recall when the last … conversation you had with Lynn was?

ANTHONY POZZA: The last time I saw Lynn was a month before she passed away,

Anthony Pozza testified that despite her medical troubles, Hernan appeared to be improving.

ANTHONY POZZA (in court): She said she was starting to feel better, and … and she's like … I'm fin — you know, I'm glad I'm getting out again, and, you know, we need to do this more often.

Prosecutors asked Waukesha County Sheriff's Detective Chris Kohl about his investigation into Hernan's death.

ABBEY NICKOLIE (in court): Did you speak with Ms. Kurczewski  in regard to this death investigation?

DET. CHRIS KOHL: Yes. … She contacted our office looking for an update.

hernan-jessy-mom.jpg
Jessy Kurczewski, left, came to the sheriff's department with her mother asking questions five months after Hernan's death -- but before the medical examiner had ruled on the cause of death. Waukesha County Circuit Courts

Prosecutors introduced video of that meeting with Detective Kohl. He testified that five months after Hernan died, before the medical examiner had ruled on the cause of death, Kurczewski came to the sheriff's department with her mother, Jennifer Flower, asking questions.

JESSY KURCZEWSKI  (police interview): You know, when I talked to the medical examiner last, um, well, I talked to them numerous times … And they said, I had to contact you guys … they kinda like, weren't sure we — didn't know if it was a suicide or if it was something medical ...

DET. CHRIS KOHL: So, at this point, I mean, they're waiting for their — their secondary, their — they call 'em confirming tests.

JESSY KURCZEWSKI : Yeah.

During that interview,  Kohl found out more about Kurczewski's relationship with Hernan.

JESSY KURCZEWSKI (police interview): She was like an aunt, a second mom to me. She didn't have kids.

DET. CHRIS KOHL: So you've known her your whole life? And that's kinda — that's why you were helping her out?

JESSY KURCZEWSKI: Yeah.

Kurczewski said she was just about the only person still in Hernan's life before she died.

JESSY KURCZEWSKI  (police interview): She pretty much blew everybody off possible in the end. …  she'd say 'No, I don't want to see anybody.'

According to Kurczewski and her mother, Hernan was so withdrawn she did not want to talk to her friend Jim Kelliher when he called.

JENNIFER FLOWER (police interview): She said, "Do not tell him. I don't want him here. I don't want to see him."

JESSY KURCZEWSKI  (police interview): She didn't like the way she looked, so she didn't want people around.

But that's not how Kelliher remembers what happened when he and his girlfriend called Hernan's number.

Jim Kelliher: Well, this girl answered the phone, and she was kind of mouthing off to us, "don't use this phone, don't call this number ever again, don't worry about Lynn." …

Jericka Duncan: And you're thinking what?

Jim Kelliher: I gotta find out from Lynn what's going on.

A few days later, Kelliher says Hernan called him from the hospital, and they agreed to make plans to get together when she went home.

Jim Kelliher: And that's the last time that I heard Lynn's voice.

As they tried to make sense of her death, Hernan's friends say they recalled her talking about something else that was troubling her — something that had nothing to do with her health.

Anthony Pozza: She would talk about her money … "'it's disappearing."

Jim Kelliher: She just said, "I don't know what's happening to my money."

MISSING MONEY AND A CRIMINAL RECORD

RANDY SITZBERGER (in court): Did Ms. Kurczewski  tell you who would be in charge of handling Lynn's estate?

ANTHONY POZZA: Yeah, she said she was appointed power of attorney.

As the prosecution turned to the charges that Kurczewski stole money from Hernan, they asked Anthony Pozza about his communications with Kurczewski in the months after Hernan's death.

ANTHONY POZZA (in court):  I would just check up with Jessy every once in a while via text and ask her if she needed any help.

Hernan left a will she had drawn up in 2016 which named Kurczewski  as personal representative, Wisconsin's equivalent of an executor. Kurczewski and Anthony Pozza were co-beneficiaries. When Kurczewski sent Anthony Pozza some paperwork of accounts she was settling, he was surprised at the amount of money Lynn appeared to owe.

ANTHONY POZZA (in court): I just remember getting a final account with just a bunch of credit card bills …

ANTHONY POZZA (in court): And it was just weird how she had all these debts that just didn't make any sense to me.

Hernan's friends remembered her as living paycheck to paycheck until 2014, when she inherited $250,000 after her mother died. Now, after Hernan's death, Kurczewski reported to Anthony Pozza that most of Hernan's assets had been eaten away by debt.

ANTHONY POZZA (in court): I just felt like something was up and I wanted it looked at more closely.

The jury next heard from someone who was looking more closely.

RANDY SITZBERGER (in court): You went through all these financial accounts sort of line by line, is that correct?

DET. NATHAN PLENNES Yes.

Jessy Kurczewski
Jessy Kurczewski   Facebook

Detective Nathan Plennes testified about the investigation into Hernan's finances. Prosecutors alleged Kurczewski stole more than $200,000 from Hernan before and after she died. And in the course of their investigation, detectives discovered a bombshell: Kurczewski  had a criminal record. In 2011,  Kurczewski  was convicted on charges of identity theft and forgery and sentenced to eight years. Jessy had been released from prison early in 2016 on extended supervision — which coincided with the time Hernan's health began to decline.

Plennes told jurors what he learned about Hernan's bank accounts. He testified that Hernan's money market account, which had around $250,000 in 2016, was down to only $87 just after she died. A fraction of the total was spent by Hernan on a Jeep and some jewelry. Almost everything else, including a total of 20 checks, went to Kurczewski .

Stephanie Rodriguez: Jessy was accused of stealing from Lynn because she was getting … checks out of Lynn Hernan's account … with varying things in the memo notes like IRS payment, car payment. … But none of the money was going to the places where Lynn supposedly intended for them to go.

Plennes described to the jury how he matched each of those checks to deposits in Kurczewski 's accounts — and then tracked where Kurczewski spent that money. There was a big spike in spending while Hernan was in the hospital two weeks before she died.

Stephanie Rodriguez: During her last hospital stay … money was being transferred from Hernan's account into Kurczewski  's account. And then Kurczewski was withdrawing that money from ATMs at a local casino.

Plennes also testified that on the day that Hernan died, a JCPenney credit card was opened in Hernan's name. Just days later, a $3,000 purchase of furniture, made on another credit card in Hernan's name, was delivered to the home Kurczewski shared with Scott Craig.

RANDY SITZBERGER (in court): Mr. Craig, how is it you know Ms. Kurczewski?

SCOTT CRAIG: We were boyfriend and girlfriend for … three-and-a-half years.

RANDY SITZBERGER: What was it that happened in the summer of 2019 that caused that end to the relationship?

SCOTT CRAIG: Um, when Waukesha Sheriff's Department came to my house and took her away. 

Kurczewski was arrested for potentially violating the terms of her supervised release on those identity theft and fraud charges.

DET. AARON HOPPE (in court): This is the initial interview that was conducted with Ms. Kurczewski once the warrants were conducted on July 9th.

Detective Aaron Hoppe, the lead investigator in the case, and Detective Chris Kohl, interviewed Kurczewski. Hoppe watched portions of that interview along with the jurors.

DET. CHRIS KOHL (police interview): Typically would you go there in the morning or the night or —

JESSY KURCZEWSKI :  I didn't have a set — It just depended how she was doing the day before, and ...

Following up on their suspicions that Kurczewski had been stealing from Hernan, Detective Chris Kohl gave her a chance to explain. She claimed Hernan had been paying her for helping at home.

DET. CHRIS KOHL (police interview): Did you have like an official arrangement —  like I make $20 an hour?

JESSY KURCZEWSKI: No. No, there was nothing. No, nothing like that. … I mean, there was no, you know, one day, "oh, here's a check." One day, "here's my card, go get this," One day—I mean, it was no, no set —

DET. CHRIS KOHL: No set amount?

JESSY KURCZEWSKI: No. … I mean, she'd help out. She'd tell my mom, "Oh, this month I'm going to pay your rent" or "I'm gonna pay your car."

Jurors watched as Detective Kohl, for the first time, shared Hernan's autopsy results with Kurczewski.

DET. CHRIS KOHL: There's an anomaly in her toxicology. There's a drug in her system that's not supposed to be there.

JESSY KURCZEWSKI: And what would that be?

DET. CHRIS KOHL: Um, it's called tetrahydrozine (sic).

JESSY KURCZEWSKI: What is that?

DET. CHRIS KOHL: More commonly known as eye drops.

JESSY KURCZEWSKI: She used eye drops all the time.

DET. CHRIS KOHL: What did she use 'em for?

JESSY KURCZEWSKI: She used 'em for her eyes. … She put 'em in her eyes all the time.

DET. CHRIS KOHL:  What killed her is the eye drops.

JESSY KURCZEWSKI: Are you serious?

DET. CHRIS KOHL: Mm-hmm (affirms).

In the interview Detective Kohl told Kurczewski that the medical examiner thought someone gave the eye drops to Hernan — orally — in an attempt to kill her.

JESSY KURCZEWSKI : Do you guys think I murdered her?

DET. CHRIS KOHL: Did you?

JESSY KURCZEWSKI: I swear to God, I didn't — I did not.

DET. CHRIS KOHL: Seems you're the one who had the most to gain on this.

But detectives say Kurczewski knew all about tetrahydrozoline. She told her boyfriend Scott, in text messages, someone had put it in her drink when she was at a bar about three months after Hernan's death. Detective Hoppe read the texts in court:

DET. AARON HOPPE: Jessy to Scott: "Scott I don't feel good."

Scott told detectives that Kurczewski said she went to the hospital.

DET. AARON HOPPE: "They said my blood pressure is really bad"

DET. AARON HOPPE: "I have traces of tetrahydrozoline in my blood  

DET. AARON HOPPE: "The doctor said  … that's the main … ingredient in eyedrops."

DET. AARON HOPPE: "He said people put it in people's drinks all the time"

DET. AARON HOPPE: "He said there's no taste to it and people don't notice."

Stephanie Rodriguez: Jessy also tells Scott in those text messages that people can die from tetrahydrozoline poisoning.

DET. AARON HOPPE: "u can die from that"

JESSY KURCZEWSKI'S CHANGING EXPLANATIONS 

ABBEY NICKOLIE:  Detective Hoppe, I think you testified you spoke again with Ms. Kurczewski?

DET. AARON HOPPE: That's right.

On day 9 of the trial, the jury watched video of another interview between Jessy and detectives. This one took place the day after she was arrested on that parole hold. She had asked to speak to detectives again.

JESSY KURCZEWSKI : I was up all night long trying to think of everything and anything. I was thinking of the Visines.

After spending her first night in jail, Kurczewski's story had changed. Right after her arrest, Kurczewski had told detectives that Hernan used eye drops for dry eyes. Now Kurczewski told Hoppe that Hernan had another use for it.

JESSY KURCZEWSKI  (police interview): She was drinking vodka and Visine.

Stephanie Rodriguez: During the second day of interviews with detectives, the jury heard Jessy tell them that Lynn did drink Visine.

DET. AARON HOPPE: How do you know she had mixed Visine with -- with her vodka?

JESSY KURCZEWSKI: Because that's what she did.

DET. AARON HOPPE: Why?

JESSY KURCZEWSKI: She's done it about three times.

DET. AARON HOPPE: Why? Why didn't you tell us that yesterday.

JESSY KURCZEWSKI: Because I didn't want to tell you guys because you guys are making it sound like it happened the day of, and that's not when she was doing that.

Stephanie Rodriguez: But Jessy says she never gave Lynn Hernan any Visine.

DET. AARON HOPPE: Did you ever put the vodka — the Visine in the vodka?

JESSY KURCZEWSKI: Never. Swear to God.

DET. AARON HOPPE: So she put the Visine (Yup) in her vodka...

Then Kurczewski went further.

Stephanie Rodriguez: Jessy goes into detail about how Lynn wanted to die by suicide. … that Lynn was using the eye drops to help her die by suicide.

JESSY KURCZEWSKI (police interview): She was looking for her way out.

Kurczewski vehemently denied helping Hernan die.

JESSY KURCZEWSKI (police interview): I never mixed it. I swear to God. I bought it for her. And I knew she was mixing it. … She put it into her water once in a while, and in her vodka once in a while.

The following day, Kurczewski asked to speak with the detectives yet again — the third time in three days. The jury watched as Kurczewski  had a new revelation for the investigators.

Stephanie Rodriguez: Jessy tells detectives that Lynn would get a buzz off of drinking Visine.

JESSY KURCZEWSKI (police interview): She said she lost like feeling of her body. It made her feel good. ... And I honestly she was doing it for so long, that I didn't think she was going to die from it. . I really didn't. I thought, OK, she was getting some sleep from it, that's it. She was doing it for two months, at least.

DET. AARON HOPPE: Doing what?

JESSY KURCZEWSKI: The Visine.

And Kurczewski now said that Hernan actually did drink Visine the day she died. Kurczewski claimed that when she visited Hernan that morning, Kurczewski  knew that Hernan had poured six bottles of Visine into her own water bottle.

JESSY KURCZEWSKI (police interview): That bottle of water right there had in six — six Visines. ...

JESSY KURCZEWSKI: I didn't put it in there. I gave her the bottle of water ...

DET. CHRIS KOHL: Which is the one you know has six bottles of Visine in it?

JESSY KURCZEWSKI: Yep.

DET. CHRIS KOHL: 'Cause she told you. And you give it to her?

JESSY KURCZEWSKI: Well, we argued about it.

Kurczewski said she spent 10 minutes trying to stop Hernan.

JESSY KURCZEWSKI: She said, "No, I want that bottle of water. It'll put me to sleep." ...

DET. CHRIS KOHL: And then you gave in?

JESSY KURCZEWSKI: Yep. … it's her choice and what she wanted ...

DET. CHRIS KOHL: And then you left?

JESSY KURCZEWSKI: Yep.

Hours later, detectives alleged Kurczewski  opened that JCPenney credit card in Hernan's name and went grocery shopping.

JESSY KURCZEWSKI (police interview): I didn't do it to her, though. I didn't (cries).

hernan-full.jpg
In June 2021, Jessy Kurczewski was charged with first-degree intentional homicide, and two counts of theft for stealing from Lynn Hernan before and after her death. Waukesha County Sheriff Records Office

It would be 23 months later that Jessy Kurczewski was charged with Lynn Hernan's death.

When it was the defense's turn, Kurczewski's attorneys focused almost solely on their claim that Hernan died by suicide by drinking Visine.

Gary Verdin, a friend of Kurczewski 's mother, testified he'd been in Hernan's condo twice, the second time about a year before her death. Yet his memory of the visit was clear.

GARY VERDIN (in court): I saw her always sitting in this, uh, chair with a table next to her. … She had, um, a … white slurpy cup, uh, straw coming out of it. She had a bottle of vodka next to it. … She had,  an ash tray, her cigarettes and bottle of Visine.

DONNA KUCHLER: You sure it's Visine?

GARY VERDIN: Yes.

Verdin testified that on another occasion, he heard Hernan on speakerphone when he visited Kurczewski's mother, Jennifer Flower.

GARY VERDIN (in court): Lynn just started rambling off … and she was either sleepy or tired or whatever, but she was, uh, rattling off about the will. … Then she started talking about how she wanted to kill herself.

The defense called Sara Tromp, a nurse practitioner who began treating Hernan for back pain in 2017. Despite prescribing several pain medications for her, Tromp said Hernan did not improve.

PABLO GALAVIZ (in court): In 2018, January, she continues to complain about her back pain.

SARA TROMP: Yes.

PABLO GALAVIZ: The pain being worsening, correct?

SARA TROMP: Yes.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Lindsey Thomas was hired by the defense.

DR. LINDSEY THOMAS (in court): I would say her past medical history was very significant. … She had a very long list of medical conditions and, uh, also had quite a few psychiatric disorders. … depression, anxiety, agoraphobia — which is fear of public places … chronic insomnia. Those were the ones that were listed in her medical records.

Dr. Thomas testified she agreed with the state's conclusion that Lynn's medical problems contributed to her death. She did not agree with the state's finding that Lynn died from tetrahydrozoline poisoning.

Stephanie Rodriguez: The forensic pathologist that the defense brought up said that Lynn's cause of death was undetermined, but she believed it was mixed-drug toxicity. … and so that means that she thought it was a combination of all the drugs found in Lynn's system.

DONNA KUCHLER (in court): Would you say that there is strong evidence here that Lynn Hernan's death was a suicide?

DR. LINDSEY THOMAS: Uh, I would say there's strong evidence that certainly could have been a suicide. Yes.

As the defense concluded, Judge Jennifer Durow asked Kurczewski if she'd be taking the stand.

JUDGE DUROW (in court): What is that decision?

JESSY KURCZEWSKI : It was very hard for me to decide, but ultimately, I will not be testifying.

In her closing argument, Deputy District Attorney Abbey Nickolie said Kurczewski  had just one motive: money.

ABBEY NICKOLIE (in court): Miss Kurczewski's intent is clear; it was to kill … And the motive is her own personal benefit. … This is someone who has profited over $144,000 before death and over $80,000 after.

In her closing, defense attorney Donna Kuchler maintained that Hernan took her own life.

DONNA KUCHLER (in court): The state has not proven a first-degree intentional homicide.

DONNA KUCHLER (in court): Jessy knew that Lynn would … take Visine, drink it. … But she doesn't know how she died that day, looked like a suicide with pills from a person who was unhappy.

As for the allegations that Jessy stole from Hernan, the defense contended that Hernan gave Jessy the money because Lynn knew she was going to end her own life.

DONNA KUCHLER (in court): Lynn gave Jessy money all the time because she wanted to.

DONNA KUCHLER (in court): She wanted Jessy to have it. She knows she's going out. … And Lynn made a decision. She made a decision that she was going to exit. And … she did that on October 3rd once Jessy had left the home.

In its rebuttal, the prosecution pushed back.

ABBEY NICKOLIE (in court): To believe that this was a suicide, you would have to believe that by the most cosmic intervention in the entire world, it happened at the exact point in time when Miss Kurczewski  maximized the amount of money that she made on this whole ordeal.

The jury deliberated for seven hours the first day but did not reach a verdict.

Stephanie Rodriguez: Verdict watch for this case was tense … when the jury began to deliberate into a second day, there was some wonder.

Anthony Pozza: That's when … I got worried. … I was wondering why, you know, what's the holdup.

On Nov. 14, 2023, after 10-and-a-half hours of deliberation, Jessy Kurczewski steadied herself as Judge Jennifer Dorow read the jury's verdicts: guilty of first-degree intentional homicide.

hernan-verdict.jpg
Jessy Kurczewski was found guilty of first-degree intentional homicide and two counts of felony theft. Court Pool

Kurczewski broke down as the judge continued. She was also convicted on the two counts of felony theft — for stealing money from Hernan before and after she died.

Anthony Pozza: I was just overcome with emotion. … it also makes you reflect on the last five years … with the lies and the deceit.

But before sentencing, the case took a bizarre turn when an envelope containing 37 pages of handwritten letters and documents was received by a friend of Kurczewski's, who then turned it over to the sheriff's department.

Stephanie Rodriguez: The letter requests a friend of Jessy to fake evidence, create a voice recording pretending to be Lynn Hernan … to send all of … this … to the judge in this case, to local media, even to the governor to try to prove Jessy's innocence.

hernan-letters.jpg
The case took a bizarre turn when an envelope containing 37 pages of handwritten letters and documents was received by a friend of Jessy Kurczewski's, who then turned it over to the sheriff's department. Prosecutors said the documents were written by Kurczewski on the back of her trial notes, giving "Directions" to her friend on how to impersonate Hernan and fabricate materials, and submit them to the court. Waukesha County Circuit Courts

Prosecutors said the documents were written by Kurczewski on the back of her trial notes, giving "Directions" to her friend on how to impersonate Hernan and fabricate materials, and submit them to the court.

Kurczewski allegedly asked her friend to "make a voice tape" pretending to be Hernan, writing "She has an older, raspy … female voice." Kurczewski allegedly directed her friend to say, "I cannot go on anymore" … "I chose to drink Visine and end my life. " Kurczewski denied writing the documents, and the sheriff's department began an investigation into their origin 

And the results of that investigation were revealed on April 5, 2024, when Kurczewski was back in Judge Dorow's court for her sentencing.

Prosecutors played video recorded in Kurczewski's bunk room at the Waukesha County Jail a few days before those documents were turned over to authorities.

JUDGE DOROW: Ms. Kurczewski this is your opportunity to address the court. What, if anything, would you like to say?

Kurczewski again denied she was the author of those documents. She spent almost two hours, without a break, proclaiming her innocence — insisting the only thing she was guilty of was being a loyal friend

They said it showed Kurczewski putting papers into an envelope, leaving it on the bed of another inmate who later takes it to a mail drop-off. The prosecution said this proved Kurczewski wrote those documents.

JESSY KURCZEWSKI (in court): Let's be very clear here, there was no murder. I did not commit murder. I did not poison Lynn, give her pills or anything else. … it is a lot to be accused and convicted of murder when I didn't do it (chokes up) … You're holding me responsible for what she did.

Judge Dorow said she believed Hernan's death was premeditated.

JUDGE DOROW: Tetrahydrozoline was not something we expected to find. … And I do believe it was something you, Ms. Kurczewski, banked on no one testing for. … I have to ask out loud, it's in a rhetorical question, but were you poisoning Lynn Hernan all along? Following your release from prison?

JESSY KURCZEWSKI: No.

JUDGE DOROW: I'm not asking for an answer, this is my time. So do not interrupt me.

Kurczewski was sentenced to life in prison on the intentional homicide charge, and 10 years for the two theft charges. The soonest she could be paroled would be after 40 years, when she would be nearly 80 years old.

JIM KELLIHER (in court): Jessy poisoned Lynn like she was a rodent.

Lynn Hernan's friend, Jim Kelliher, had a few final words for her killer.

JIM KELLIHER (in court): The devil awaits you. I hope you rot in hell. Lynn Hernan is an angel in heaven. May you rest in peace, Lynn. You're dearly missed. And always will be. I'm so very sorry. God bless

Jessy Kurczewski s mother, Jennifer Flower, has not been charged with any wrongdoing in connection with Lynn Hernan's death. 

 Kurczewski  says she plans to file an appeal. 

"48 HOURS" POST MORTEM PODCAST

Jericka Duncan and "48 Hours" producers Susan Mallie and Lauren Clark share never-before-heard audio of Jessy Kurczewski impersonating her friend, whom she was recently found guilty of fatally poisoning with eye drops. The group also discusses the exonerating evidence that Kurczewski allegedly buried in a public park and the judge's unusual statement during sentencing.  

Listen to this episode on ART19

Richard Barber is the producer/editor. Susan Mallie and Lauren Clark are the producers. Charlotte A. Fuller is the development producer. Marcus Balsam and Phil Tangel are the editors. Michelle Sigona and Tamara Weitzman are the development producers. Anthony Batson is the senior producer. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Judy Tygard is the executive producer.

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