After her friend was found dead of what police initially presumed to be an overdose, Jessy Kurczewski changed the narrative by suggesting she had been suicidal.
Five years later, Ms Kurczewski is facing a murder trial, with Wisconsin prosecutors alleging she killed her friend, Lynn Hernan, with eye drops and then staged the scene to make it look like she’d taken her own life.
The 39-year-old has pleaded not guilty to charges accusing her of defrauding Hernan of nearly $300,000 before killing her by dumping six bottles of Visine into her water bottle.
The murder trial began on Monday 23 October with jury selection in Waukesha County with Judge Jennifer Dorow, who oversaw Darrell Brooks’s Waukesha parade massacre trial, in charge of proceedings. Opening statements began the following afternoon.
A panel of 16 jurors will hear how deputies found Hernan in a recliner at her home with crushed medication on her chest, and how investigators initially thought she had overdosed.
This was until Ms Kurczewski said there was a possibility her friend was suicidal.
But toxicology tests showed Hernan had a fatal dose of tetrahydrozoline, which is the main ingredient in eye drops, in her system.
When Ms Kurczewski was told by investigators that it was tetrahydrozoline that killed her friend and that the scene was staged to look like a suicide, she said it was what her friend wanted and she must have staged her own suicide, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
Ms Kurczewski later revealed to investigators she had given her friend a water bottle mixed with six bottles’ worth of Visine. She said she didn’t think it would kill her friend because she had been drinking it for so long.
Here’s what to know about the case:
The suicide theory
On 3 October 2018, police responded to a home on Meadow Grass Circle in Pewaukee after Ms Kurczewski called to report that her friend, Hernan, wasn’t conscious or breathing. She had been checking in daily, she said, and that she had been acting oddly the week before.
Crushed medication was found on Hernan and prescription bottles were found nearby.
Ms Kurczewski told investigators there was “a possibility” that Hernan was suicidal. However, other people who knew her, told authorities they didn’t think she would “intentionally or unintentionally overdose.”
Hernan’s death was believed to be a drug overdose but later ruled a homicide when the Waukesha County medical examiner found the victim had a fatal amount of tetrahydrozoline in her system.
The medical examiner said to reach those levels with the eye drops, it was “impossible” to have just been used in the eyes.
The staging theory
Over the course of several interviews with police, Ms Kurczewski had told them she had brought Hernan a water bottle with Visine in it at her request. She said her friend was known to purchase a large volume of eyedrops and that she drank Visine with vodka before her death.
While behind bars at the Waukesha County Jail, Ms Kurczewski told investigators she was “probably going to prison for the rest of her life” because she helped Hernan “do what she wanted,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
She also allegedly had a breakdown while at Taycheedah Correctional Institution and told her roommate she gave Hernan “several bottles of Visine to kill her.”
Investigators later found that Ms Kurczewski had committed nearly $300,000 worth of fraud, according to the criminal complaint, including a $130,204 check that was “transferred fraudulently” from the victim to Kurczewski.
Ms Kurczewski told investigators that she was acting as power of attorney and that Hernan had no immediate family, yet a cousin told authorities it was suspicious that she had left her entire estate to Ms Kurczewski.
She now faces charges of first-degree intentional homicide, theft of movable property greater than $100,000 in value, and theft of movable property between $10,000 and $100,000 in value, according to online court records.
Opening statements began on Tuesday and the first witness is expected to take the stand in the afternoon.
Judge Jennifer Dorow has set aside a month for the trial.