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Miami woman couldn't get mental health care for son before he was charged with gruesome crime

David Ovalle, Miami Herald on

Published in Health & Fitness

His condition wasn't always awful. A counselor for New Horizons Mental Health Center in Allapattah, which treated Jerome off and on since he was a teenager, began coming to the house, weekly for a couple of years. "He was doing very good," Wright said. "She was trying to steer him on the right road."

But several years ago, the counselor stopped coming. Wright isn't sure why. Calls from a reporter to the center went unanswered.

Jerome began to fall apart. The two fell into a tragic pattern. He erupted into fits of rage, punching holes in the walls, tearing off closet doors and chasing her through the house. She called police, and then let him back in. Nine times in the past three years, they used the Baker Act to commit him to hospitals for psychiatric evaluations.

It is not unusual for people who have been committed to get worse after they are released, especially because they are only given medication for a week, according to mental health experts.

"There is no step-down type of system, no hand holding. There is not enough case managers because there is not enough funding," said Denise Llenera, a coordinator with Miami's branch of the National Alliance for Mental Illness, which runs support groups for families dealing with the diseases.

"There is no one make sure you get to your next appointment, to make sure you get the meds you need. None of that is done. Many times, they don't even call the family members to tell them they are being released."

Tensions between mother and son got so unbearable that Wright twice petitioned a civil judge for a restraining order, but dropped the matter both times. Last year, she said, she even took the train to the community health center, asking for a new counselor to visit Jerome at the house, with no luck.

Finally, in September 2015, a judge issued a permanent injunction barring Wright from coming within 500 feet of the house.

She let him back in anyway.

It was at their home that Jerome was arrested in March 2017 for beating his girlfriend, Deanna Clendinen, herself a chronic sufferer of mental illness who had been in and out of jail. Her relatives could not be reached for comment.

He beat her with an ashtray during sex. Jerome was not entered into any mental health programs, but got probation and was required to complete anger management classes.

 

And it was at the home that Jerome in October when his mother called Miami-Dade police to report a foul smell coming from one of the two bedrooms her son used inside the home.

Inside a closet, officers found Clendinen's body covered in a heap of sheets and clothes. Her organs were found in a trash bin outside the home. Exactly how she died remains unknown. The Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's Office has not ruled on a cause or manner of death, and Jerome has not been charged with causing her death, only with abusing a human corpse.

According to a police report, he emerged from his room "naked and sweaty" – and insisted that whatever was in his room was not real but a "life-size blow-up doll in the closet, and that the doll is made from flesh." He also told officers he hadn't seen Clendinen in five months.

A court-appointed doctor later noted that Jerome "seemed genuinely unaware of her whereabouts or death."

Jerome may never stand trial. Last month, a judge declared him mentally incompetent, so he is rehabilitating at a secure South Florida psychiatric hospital. If his lawyers can prove he didn't know right from wrong at the time of the crime, he could be declared not guilty by reason of insanity.

For now, he calls his mother three to four days a day, sometime just to say hello before going to classes about understanding the legal system. He sounds stable and content, although he has complaints about the food. That prompted Wright to send him her last $50 to the hospital, so he could buy extra snacks.

"It's not a lot. I sent it anyway," Wright said. "I needed that but I don't want him to be hungry."

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