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Shooting suspect charged with murder
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Susan Rae Berkovitz was charged with first-degree murder Wednesday in connection with the shooting of two people at the Hennepin County Government Center Monday. (Photo courtesy of Hennepin County sheriff's office)
The Hennepin County Attorney's office has filed charges against a St. Paul woman suspected of killing her cousin and wounding an attorney at the Hennepin County Government Center Monday. Susan Berkovitz, 52, is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday on first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder charges. The complaint details a woman so angry with her cousin over an inheritance dispute, she plotted for months to commit murder.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Shortly after 10 a.m. on Sept. 29, Susan Berkovitz was supposed to appear at a court hearing on restraining orders she'd filed against her cousin, Shelley Joseph-Kordell, and Kordell's attorney, Richard Hendrickson.

The prosecutor's complaint says the real reason Berkovitz met the two that morning was to shoot them dead.

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Image The family

"The evidence shows that defendant Berkovitz came into the Hennepin County Government Center that morning with a loaded gun, and with obsessive resentment against the two victims," says Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar.

The complaint details a scene where Berkovitz waited on the 17th floor with a century-old loaded gun she'd bought this past summer at a gun show -- a .38-caliber Smith and Wesson revolver she'd learned to use by shooting target practice. Kordell and Hendrickson appear to have had safety concerns when they arrived that morning. The two asked a security officer to accompany them to the 17th floor, which he did.

Lori Wachter, Hendrickson's sister, said her brother was concerned about Berkovitz. "He did mention her and we called her the 'crazy lady' because she was harassing him quite a bit," she said. "He did screen his calls. So when we'd call him, we'd always get the answering machine, and when he found out it was us calling, he would answer and start talking. That's all we knew about her."

Records say Kordell headed for the ladies' room while Hendrickson waited. The unarmed security officer stood outside the bathroom. Berkovitz apparently then walked up to Hendrickson in the lobby, and shot him in the neck at close range. A sheriff's deputy radioed for help. Hennepin County Sheriff Pat McGowan says Berkovitz then pursued Kordell in the ladies' bathroom.

"And at that point, there were several shots fired in the bathroom. And when the suspect walked out, the sheriff's deputy -- the first on the scene -- had already put a call for assistance. Other officers responded quickly and the suspect was taken into custody," says McGowan.

The complaint says both Kordell and Hendrickson identified Berkovitz as their attacker. Kordell died about two hours after the shooting. The Hennepin County Public Defender's office says Berkovitz does not have a public offender assigned to her, and that she'll likely have to secure a private attorney.

Records show that after the arrest, a sheriff's deputy overheard Berkovitz say that her cousin and her attorney were extorting money from her father's estate, that she eventually had to go to a shelter because had no money, that it was all her cousin's fault and that her cousin brought it on herself.

Klobuchar says that information was included in the complaint, not because it was true, but to show Berkovitz planned the murder.

The president of the Minnesota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Fred Goetz, says even the most creative attorney who defends Berkovitz will have a tough case. There were a dozen witnesses and it was not a crime of passion.

Court officials in Hennepin and Ramsey counties said Berkovitz had a pattern of filing questionable lawsuits. Goetz says the one issue is whether she has a mental illness.

"It's obviously a very deranged, disturbed act. Whether or not she'd be suffering from a mental illness that would rise to the level of legal insanity -- it's a tough, tough defense to raise. But that's certainly what a defense practitioner wants to take a look at," says Goetz.

Under Minnesota law, prosecutors must bring the charges before a county grand jury within two weeks. Berkovitz is beingh held at the Hennepin County jail, with bail set at $2 million.

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