California Parole Board considers releasing man who dismembered roommate to skilled nursing facility

Tulare County District Attorney pushes back against the parole board’s recommendation to relocate Visalia murderer Jerry McKiernan to a local facility

VISALIA – The novel coronavirus has made decisions that were once unfathomable seem possible. Even when they are about the release of a man who was imprisoned for dismembering his roommate.

The Tulare County District Attorney’s office announced last week that they were arguing against the California Parole Board’s recommendation to move convicted Visalia murderer Jerry McKiernan, 72, from prison to a skilled nursing facility. The DA’s office said the facility would most likely be in Tulare County.

McKiernan is currently serving a life sentence at the California Health Care Facility in Stockton and is not eligible for parole until 2026.

His crime was on Dec. 29, 1999. The Visalia Police Department dispatch received an anonymous call that alleged McKiearnan had stabbed his 54-year-old male roommate to death in their apartment. When officers arrived at the apartment, they found McKiearnan lying on the bed in one of the bedrooms. Officers immediately took him into custody and began a search of the residence.

In a separate bedroom closet, officers discovered several plastic bags containing various dismembered body parts – a decapitated head, hands, legs below the knee, and torso. A knife and a hacksaw bearing McKiearnan’s fingerprints were found in the closet with the body parts.

The coroner examined the remains and determined the victim was stabbed 42 times. It was estimated the victim was killed five to six days before he was discovered. The anonymous caller was revealed to be a friend of McKiearnan who regularly did heroin with him and to whom McKiearnan admitted the crime.

In late 2000, McKiearnan was found guilty of first-degree murder with the use of a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to 26 years-to-life in prison. McKiearnan possesses numerous felony and misdemeanor convictions for possession of a controlled substance dating back to 1974.

District Attorney Tim Ward’s office also sent out a press release on Monday, July 27 to chide Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to release inmates. Ward says they are being released by the thousands, “many with violent records.”

The press release states that Ward’s office will object where the rules allow. The releases add that 53 inmates convicted in Tulare County are identified for early release from California prisons. Crimes committed by these inmates consist of various felonies and all identified for release have extensive criminal histories, many having prior convictions for serious or violent crimes otherwise known as “strike” offenses. The criminal histories of these inmates include convictions for crimes such as lewd acts on a child, voluntary manslaughter, robbery, child abuse, auto theft, and evading police.

“Many inmates possess numerous parole violations, showing an inability to remain free from custody,” the press release states.

According to the release, one particular release includes Terra Bella man Steven Elms, 45, who possesses 11 DUI convictions and was sentenced to over 5 years in prison for DUI in February 2019.

“Do not be fooled by the rhetoric that these individuals are nonviolent. To release an inmate with 11 DUI convictions back into our community, already reeling from recent tragedies related to drunk drivers, is not only reckless but also completely insensitive to victims. In 2020, this office has already filed six DUI murder cases. This equals the combined total of such filings from 2018 and 2019,” Ward said.

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