WI v. Jessy Kurczewski: Eye Drops Murder Trial

Posted at 4:13 PM, April 5, 2024

WAUKESHA COUNTY, Wis. (Court TV) — A Wisconsin woman convicted in the death of a woman in her care was sentenced to life in prison with her first chance of parole in 40 years.

Last year, a jury found Jessy Kurczewski, 39, guilty of first-degree intentional homicide and two counts of felony theft in the 2018 death of Lynn Hernan. On Friday, Judge Jennifer Dorow sentenced Kurczewski to life in prison with a chance of parole after 30 years on the homicide charge, to be followed by two sentences of five years each for the theft charges, to be served consecutively. She will be eligible for parole when she is approximately 80 years old.

Jessy Kurczewski sits in court

Jessy Kurczewski sits in court during a motions hearing on Dec. 7, 2023. (Court TV)

Prosecutors argued that Kurczewski fatally poisoned Hernan before staging the scene to appear as a suicide. Investigators testified to finding Hernan unconscious in a recliner in her living room with crushed medication on her chest and what appeared to be “a large amount” of crushed medication on a plate to her left.

While Kurczewski, who had served as a caretaker for Hernan, told police that her friend had been in severe pain and suicidal, investigators said they determined that Kurzcewski had actually been stealing from the victim.

“There’s certainly a factual, bare-bones timeline of theft, murder and more theft,” Assistant District Attorney Randy Sitzberger said in his opening statement. “But there’s this almost overlaid timeline of all the defendant’s lies and deceit.”

Investigators say, in total, Kurczewski stole $290,210.06 from Hernan before and after her death. One of Hernan’s accounts contained just $88 after her death, investigators testified during the trial.

The medical examiner and other investigators testified that toxicology results revealed that Hernan had ingested a lethal amount of Tetrahydrozoline, a chemical found in eye drops. Prosecutors said that Kurczewski emptied six bottles of Visine into Hernan’s water before walking out of the door and leaving her to die.

Hernan died on Oct. 3, 2018. Kurczewski was arrested on July 9, 2019.

Kurczewski’s defense attorneys argued the money was all given as gifts to their client by Hernan, who Kurczewski described as “like a mother.” “If Lynn Hernan was there today, she would say, ‘Are you crazy, prosecution?” Pablo Galaviz, Kurczewski’s attorney, said in his opening statement.

While the medical examiner ruled that Tetrahydrozoline was the leading cause of Hernan’s death, Kurczewski’s defense team called its own toxicology and forensic experts who said that Hernan’s death was more likely the result of mixed drug toxicity.

Judge Jennifer Dorow, who presided over the trial of Darrell E. Brooks, presided over the case.



DAY 16 – 11/14/23

  • The jury reached a verdict, convicting Jessy Kurczewski of first-degree intentional homicide, theft of movable property over $100,000 and theft of movable property between $10,000 and $100,000.

DAY 15 – 11/13/23

  • Abbey Nickolie delivered closing arguments for the prosecution.
    • Tetrahyrdozoline poisoning was the cause of death, homicide was the manner of death.
    • Memo notes on checks written from Lynn’s account were designed to mislead.
    • A fake will was filed with the circuit court because Jessy needed a reason to explain why $50,000 was removed from Lynn’s estate. In 2010, Jessy was convicted of financial crimes and her motive was financial gain.
    • WATCH: Eye Drops Murder Trial: Prosecution Closing Argument
  • Donna Keuchler delivered the defense’s closing argument.
    • Lynn’s death was not a homicide, it was a suicide: pills were found in her system that Lynn shouldn’t have had.
    • Investigators didn’t believe the scene was staged at the time and didn’t bring up the theory for a year.
    • When threatened with a nursing home/palliative care, Lynn decided to spend all of her money.
    • WATCH: Defense: Victim Purposefully Overdosed on ‘Boat-Load of Drugs’
  • The jury asked several questions, requesting exhibits be sent back during their deliberations.
  • After more than 6 hours of deliberations, the jury went home for the evening and will return to deliberate on Tuesday.

DAY 14 – 11/10/23

  • The attorneys met with Judge Dorow on Friday to discuss jury instructions and review the verdict form.
  • Defense attorney Donna Kuchler asked the Court to include a lesser offense of assisted suicide, which Judge Durow denied, saying,”There is just no support […] that Ms. Kurczewski provided assistance with the intent that Lynn Hernan take her own life. On the contrary, there’s evidence that she did not believe that the Tetrahydrozoline would kill Mrs. Hernan.”
  • The jury will return to hear closing arguments Monday, Nov. 13 at 9:30 a.m. ET.

DAY 13 – 11/9/23

  • Toxicologist Henry Spiller testified that Lynn Hernan had to ingest 33 to 42 pills before her death, and determined that she had an equivalent of one teaspoon of Tetrahydrozoline in her stomach.
    • Spiller said that if Lynn had been dosed with Tetrahydrozoline, it wouldn’t be possible to force pills down her throat because she would be too drowsy.
    • On cross-examination, prosecutors emphasized that Spiller is neither a medical examiner nor a coroner.
    • At a prior hearing, Spiller had calculated that Hernan had ingested 21-28 pills, rather than the 33-42 he testified to in court.
  • Jessy Kurzcewski told the judge that she would not be taking the stand to testify.
  • The defense rested its case.
  • Prosecutors called toxicologist Dr. Sherri Kacinko for its rebuttal case, who testified about black box warnings on prescribed medications.

DAY 12 – 11/8/23

  • Sara Tromp, a nurse who cared for Lynn Hernan, testified that Lynn came to her for help because she’d been dealing with pain since 1991.
    • In December, Lynn indicated her pain was getting worse.
    • A urine drug screen revealed that Lynn wasn’t taking her medication as prescribed.
    • Lynn began complaining of dry eyes.
    • Tromp recommended Lynn see a pain psychologist, but Lynn refused.
  • Forensic pathologist Dr. Lindsey Thomas testified that she found that Lynn’s past medical history was significant and ruled her cause of death to be mixed drug toxicity with a manner of death undetermined.

DAY 11 – 11/7/23

  • Detective Aaron Hoppe concluded his testimony, clarifying that Jessy was on a probation hold during interviews after the search warrant was executed.
  • Jessy was convicted of a felony for financial crimes in 2010.
  • 911 call from Jessy was never heard or downloaded.
  • The state rested its case-in-chief.
  • A defense motion for a directed verdict was denied.
  • Thomas Nuemann testified that he took a loan application at Wells Fargo for Lynn and Jessy, but admitted he had no memory of the application.
  • Allison Pamperin testified that she notarized documents for Jessy and Lynn, as well as prepared signature cards and access to Lynn’s safety deposit box for Jessy and Jennifer Flower.
  • Lynn’s neighbor, Jean Tanel, testified that they had been close in the “beginning” and drank with each other a couple of times a week.
    • The pair had a falling out in 2017 after a confrontation.
  • Lynn’s friend, Jimmy Ray Burge, testified that Lynn said she wasn’t doing well and was sick all the time, but never mentioned she was broke or that Lynn was suicidal.
  • Gary Verdin, Jennifer Flower’s friend, testified that Lynn said that she wanted to kill herself and rambled about her will and jewelry.
  • Linda Eisenhart, an FBI handwriting and document analyst, compared Jessy and Lynn’s known writing and found inconsistencies.

DAY 10 – 11/6/23

  • Detective Aaron Hoppe returned to the stand for a third day, and testified to more clips of interviews he did of Jessy Kurczewski.
    • Jessy did not inform detectives on the scene that Lynn drank Visine.
    • Jessy and Lynn fought the morning of her death. The first time it was mentioned, Jessy said the fight was over her drinking Visine in her vodka and water. She expressed concern but said that Lynn had done it before.
    • Jessy claimed she never crushed pills or staged/moved the body.
    • Jessy told police that she had evidence that would vindicate her but wanted to talk to an attorney first.
    • Jessy’s phone records show deleted files concerning cyanide, poisoning and suicide.
    • Jessy ordered two unassembled guns with Lynn’s credit card and her fake e-mail. She used her phone number as a point of contact and asked for a FedEx hold on some of the packages.
    • Jessy sent detectives on a wild goose chase regarding the location of Lynn’s safety deposit box as well as gun parts and Visine bottles sealed in plastic bags.

DAY 9 – 11/3/23

  • Detective Aaron Hoppe returned to the stand as the jurors watched a series of videos showing police interviews Jessy Kurczewski did with investigators.
    • In a July 9, 2019, interview, detectives mentioned Tetrahydrozoline for the first time. In response, Jessy immediately talked about how Lynn was already using eye drops, having never previously mentioned it.
    • Texts between Scott Craig and Jessy indicate Lynn had possibly been poisoned with Tetrahydrozoline.
    • While Jessy denies knowledge of the chemicals to detectives, Hoppe noted that she spelled Tetrahydrozoline correctly in texts with her boyfriend previous to the interview and appeared to know it could poison someone.
    • Jessy denied ever witnessing Lynn Hernan drinking Visine before saying that Lynn regularly drank the substance with her vodka and that she often purchased the eye drops for Lynn.
    • Jessy discovered Lynn’s body on Oct. 3, 2019. That morning, she opened a JC Penney credit card using Lynn’s information but the shipping address was where Jessy lived with her boyfriend.

DAY 8 – 11/2/23

  • Detective Nathan Piennes returned to the stand for cross-examination.
    • Piennes said that he did not investigate Lynn Hernan’s “pattern of life” prior to 2016.
    • Lynn had close to $350,000 in her deposit accounts in 2014.
    • Lynn applied for a $15,000 loan that was possibly denied; there is no record of the loan being deposited into any of her accounts.
    • FBI was brought into the investigation to analyze handwriting samples.
  • Waukesha Sheriff’s Detective Brian Fredericks, a digital forensic analyst, testified that he analyzed Scott Craig and Jessy Kurczewski’s cell phones.
    • Fredericks found an app that displayed a phony phone number and hid the authentic/real number on cell phone displays.
  • Detective David Schroeder, a cellular data analyst, obtained information and coordinates from cell phone towers that were used to map cell phone use by both Jessy and Scott.
  • Detective Aaron Hoppe, who eventually became the lead investigator on the case, testified that it was Jessy’s voice on two phone calls made to Lynn’s bank.
    • Hoppe verified that Jessy was using Lynn’s credit cards while she was on a getaway with her boyfriend, Scott Craig.
    • At a July 19th interview, Jessy was read her Miranda rights and still decided to talk to detectives. No one had told her at that point that Tetrahydrozoline poisoning was the cause of Lynn’s death.

DAY 7 – 11/1/23

  • Waukesha Sheriff’s Office Detective Nathan Piennes spent the day testifying to the financial transactions and documents he reviewed as part of the investigation into the case.
    • His investigation began in 2016, at the start of Jessy and Lynn’s relationship.
    • Of 22 checks cut from Lynn’s MMA opened Oct. 1, 2014, with a $250,000 inheritance from her mother, 20 of them were to Jessy Kurczewski.
    • In all, $134,337.01 was signed over to Jessy from the MMA account. The final balance of the account after Lynn’s death was $88.
    • Irregular transactions Piennes noted were at Scott E’s Pub, a bar and a casino that Lynn never frequented, and 61 cash withdrawals.
    • Lynn, Jessy, Jennifer Flower and Anthony Pozza all had access to Lynn’s safety deposit box, but Jessy is the only one who ever visited and accessed it before Lynn’s death.
    • Jessy gave Anthony Pozza multiple fake receipts having to do with Lynn’s estate account.
    • WATCH: Eye Drops Murder Trial: Day 7 Recap

DAY 6 – 10/31/23

  • Officer Francis Stahl testified that Jessy Kurczewski had been a suspect in a fraud case.
    • During their investigation, Jessy allegedly admitted she was trying to open an account fraudulently using the name of her upstairs neighbor.
  • Leslie Boonton, the manager at Robert Hack Jewelers testified that Jessy sold jewelry at least three times, including bracelets and rings.
    • Every transaction at the store is recorded for reporting to the municipality, and each person who sells items is asked how long they have owned it. ID is also required for every transaction.
  • Magdalena Soboniak, who was incarcerated at one point with Kurczewski, testified that Jessy told her that Lynn died after taking too much medication.
  • Anthony Pozza, a close friend of Lynn’s, testified.
    • Pozza said that Lynn had told him about her will and money and that he never believed she would commit suicide.
    • Pozza had never met Jessy while Lynn was alive. After her death, when they spoke, he said that she immediately brought up her will.
    • He admitted he signed paperwork making Jessy the personal representative of Lynn’s estate. He then began receiving credit card bills and said ‘red flags’ started to go up.
  • Pozza’s attorney, Elizabeth Taylor, testified that she didn’t initially think Anthony had a case but then was concerned when she saw credit card bills totaling more than $100,000, which was odd for an older woman who did not often leave the house.

DAY 5 – 10/30/23

  • Recorded prison phone calls between Jessy Kurczewski and her ex-boyfriend, Scott Craig, revealed he was angry that she had lied to him repeatedly.
  • Craig’s cousin Daniel Radlof, who lived with the couple temporarily, said that she admitted to being laid off for multiple months while putting on a facade about going to work. He said that she gambled a lot and had credit at the casino.
  • Craig’s ex-wife and daughter got along with Jessy and were aware she took care of Lynn. They were taken aback at the amount of money she spent, including offering to send one to visit Thailand while the other was teaching there.
  • The jury saw a video of police talking to Jessy Kurczewski and her mother, Jennifer Flowers.

DAY 4 – 10/27/23

  • Dr. Sherri Kacinko, a toxicologist, testified to what Tetrahydrozoline is and what it does, as well as how much was in Hernan’s system.
    • Kacinko said it’s very unusual to see amounts as high as she did in Hernan’s blood.
    • On the cross, the defense pointed out other medications and drugs Hernan had in her system that have adverse effects and risk of death.
  • Koreen Pozza, Lynn Hernan’s friend, described the victim as thoughtful and generous but said that she only gave inexpensive gifts — never cash — and was frugal.
    • Pozza said that Hernan had said she wanted Pozza’s son, Anthony, to get the $50,000 she kept in a bank lock box, but he didn’t get it.
  • James Kelliher, Lynn’s ex-boyfriend, also described the victim as frugal and generous, but never freely gave him money. The two remained in touch until her death.

DAY 3 – 10/26/23

  • Dr. Linda Biedzrycki returned to the stand for cross-examination and redirect. She testified that she could not definitively say whether Lynn Hernan drank the eye drops voluntarily.

DAY 2 – 10/25/23

  • Dr. Linda Biedrzycki, Waukesha County Medical Examiner’s Office, testified to Lynn Hernan’s toxicology report, as well as Tetrahydrozoline symptoms and effects and her conclusions after performing Hernan’s autopsy.
    • Biedrzycki concluded that Hernan died of Tetrahydrozoline poisoning with contributing factors of other medications which may have increased Tetrahydrozoline’s effects.

DAY 1 – 10/24/23