Accused rope killer mentally incompetent to stand trial

Kathleen McEwan with her grandson in better days. An undertaker found rope, candy wrappers and assorted debris in McEwan's throat after her June 10 death.
Kathleen McEwan with her grandson in better days. An undertaker found rope, candy wrappers and assorted debris in McEwan's throat after her June 10 death.
Posted: August 02, 2012

A MENTAL-HEALTH evaluation has determined that the woman accused of suffocating her bed-bound roommate by shoving a rope and other debris down her throat is not competent to stand trial, a Philadelphia Judge ruled Wednesday.

Geraldine Cherry, 50, will be committed to Norristown State Hospital for 60 days to receive psychiatric treatment, Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore said.

Municipal Judge Teresa Carr Deni set Cherry's next court date for Oct. 17. At that time it will be determined if she is fit to have a preliminary hearing or if she is still mentally unfit to stand trial, Pescatore said.

"She is obviously severely and chronically mentally ill," her public defender, Fred Goodman, told the Daily News in a story published last week.

Cherry is charged with murder in the June 10 death of Kathleen McEwan, 70, a former South Philadelphia waitress who suffered from schizophrenia and the ravages of a series of strokes that left her unable to care for herself.

At the time of McEwan's death, she and Cherry were roommates at the Parker Place apartments in Roxborough under the care of Resources for Human Development, a national nonprofit agency based in Philadelphia.

On June 10, emergency workers were called and found McEwan unconscious in her bed. She was pronounced dead five minutes later and her remains were turned over to a Willow Grove funeral home. There, an undertaker discovered a piece of rope and candy wrappers stuffed down McEwan's throat.

The city Medical Examiner's Office found more junk: Chex Party Mix, a lotion bottle and a piece of diaper. Cherry was arrested June 20 and charged with murder and possession of an instrument of crime.

Cherry's alleged slaying of McEwan is but the latest chapter in a life filled with madness, violence and despair. Cherry, one of 16 siblings originally from Camden, was physically and sexually abused as a child and was sent to live in foster homes at about age 12, according to relatives.

At 18, Cherry was charged with aggravated assault for pushing a woman onto the tracks from the elevated platform at the PATCO high-speed-line station in Voorhees. She was given the maximum sentence of 10 years in state prison and diagnosed with antisocial-personality disorder, a condition defined by deception, exploitation and criminal behavior.

While in prison, Cherry was charged with arson and lost her sight, although exactly how is disputed by her siblings.

Contact Mensah M. Dean at 215-568-8278 or deanm@philly.com. Follow him on Twitter @mensahdean.

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