Double Murder Suspect 'Failed' by the System? Family and Friends Say Her Mental Health Issues Weren't Taken Care Of

By Jackson, Gordon; Schoettler, Jim | The Florida Times Union, February 11, 2009 | Go to article overview

Double Murder Suspect 'Failed' by the System? Family and Friends Say Her Mental Health Issues Weren't Taken Care Of


Jackson, Gordon, Schoettler, Jim, The Florida Times Union


Byline: GORDON JACKSON and JIM SCHOETTLER

ST. MARYS - People close to a St. Marys woman charged with killing her grandmother and aunt's boyfriend Saturday in South Florida say law enforcement and medical officials could have prevented the crimes.

Amy K. Kern, 30, was charged Saturday in Jupiter with fatally beating and stabbing her grandmother, Donna Kern, 80, with a tire iron. She was also charged in the fatal shooting of William E. Chapman, 59, in Palm Beach Gardens. Chapman was the live-in boyfriend of the suspect's aunt, Beverly Kern.

She had been out on $5,850 bail since Dec. 31, three days after her arrest on felony aggravated assault charges in two attacks with an ax on her fiance, Andy Charneski. He declined to comment.

His sister-in-law, Pamela Charneski said Kern should not have been released from jail after that attack because she had previous mental health issues.

Authorities knew of Kern's mental health issues more than a year ago, with one police officer saying in December 2007 that he thought Kern had "reached a crisis stage with her mental illness issues."

Charneski said Kern needed long-term medical care.

"The system failed that girl. Totally failed that girl," said Charneski, 40. "Nobody properly helped her."

Camden County Chief Magistrate Jennifer Lewis, who took office Jan. 1, said Kern had no criminal history and nothing in the warrants indicated she had a mental health problem. Lewis did not preside over the case but consulted the case file for the Times-Union. At the request of Kern's fiance, now-retired magistrate Dar Hendrickson ordered her to undergo mental health counseling. Lewis said Amy Kern had complied with that order.

Lt. Johnny Guy, chief of the St. Marys Police criminal investigation division, said family members are complaining about perceived failures in the criminal and mental health systems because "the family has to find someone to blame."

Before her bail hearing, Kern underwent a mental health evaluation to determine if she was competent to stand trial, Guy said.

OK TO FACE CRIMINAL CHARGES

The doctor who did that mental health evaluation determined she was fit to face criminal charges, Guy said. After the evaluation, the only choice arresting officers had was to focus on the criminal charges, Guy said.

"We don't arrest people and put them in jail for mental health issues," Guy said.

In Georgia, persons who are mentally ill can be held against their will only if a judge determines they are a danger to themselves or others. There is no court record for such a hearing for Kern.

Hendrickson waived the $5,850 bail and released Kern on her own recognizance. She was still free when she drove her green Camaro to Florida sometime Saturday.

South Florida investigators said the handgun possibly used to kill Chapman came from Kern's father's house in Port St. Lucie.

Jupiter police reports said Kern initially intended to kill her father, but he was not home when she arrived there.

Kern is suspected of using the gun to shoot at motorists on Interstate 95 and at a rest area on the interstate, police said.

Kern's father, Richard Kern, told the Palm Beach Post that his daughter spent years in and out of institutions in Florida and Georgia.

"They'd give her medication, they'd keep her for five days than they'd throw her out," he said. "She's been thrown under the bus by the system."

Pamela Charneski said her brother-in-law and Kern had been dating since about January 2008 and their daughter was born in November. She said Kern appeared happy when she first met her, though there were moments when she acted strangely. …

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