Kirkwood man pleaded guilty to rare criminal charge involving mental health, guns

Published: Mar. 28, 2023 at 6:51 PM CDT
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KIRKWOOD (KMOV) -- A local man pleaded guilty to a rare criminal charge involving mental health and guns.

“There are people who just shouldn’t have guns,” said John Davis, a former federal prosecutor.

“Very rare, except only a handful of times I have seen it in my 23 years here in federal court,” he said, calling the case against Joseph Zarky very unusual.

Twenty-four-year-old Zarky pleaded guilty to two federal counts Tuesday. The law he broke: knowingly possessing guns, even after being committed to a mental institution.

It all started back in 2021 when police said he was acting erratically at his grandparent’s Webster Groves home. On him, they found guns and plastic bags with animal body parts.

He was committed to two mental hospitals but was again caught with guns, some of which he purchased at a gun show, according to prosecutors. He was even found once by police with a bloody knife.

It all culminated in May 2022 when federal agents executed a search warrant on his Kirkwood home and found 15 firearms and 4,000 rounds of ammo.

“They were lucky because it prevented something horrible from happening,” said Davis.

Davis told News 4 Investigates officers can’t be everywhere, so family intervention in these kinds of cases is critical.

“Somebody has to alert law enforcement if the law is going to be enforced, as opposed to in retrospect and someone has been hurt and they have a mental defect, absolutely, yes,” Davis said.

Zarky’s family members were in court. He smiled at them and told them he loved them but declined to talk with News 4 Investigates after the plea hearing.

He will be sentenced in July. Both the prosecution and defense recommended that he get five years’ probation, during which he will have to live in a mental institution and receive treatment for his mental health.