The Murder of Bonnie Garland
By May 1978, the trial of Richard Herrin was ready to begin. In the press, defense attorney Jack Litman portrayed his client as remorseful and confused over what he had done. He said the young man was temporarily insane at the time of the assault, driven to the brink of madness by an insensitive girlfriend who treated him in an extremely hurtful manner. "It led to a psychotic state," he said, "or a state akin to psychosis that Richard Herrin was in when he took Bonnie Garland's life" (Connell). Under New York State law, the defense is allowed to introduce testimony concerning the defendant's state of mind at the time of the offense. Although Herrin may have committed a horrendous crime, Litman said, he was now deeply remorseful.
In his opening statement, prosecutor William Fredreck reminded the jury that Herrin knew he was going to kill Bonnie and that he had planned it before the event. "This killing was premeditated," he said. "It was planned. It was cold. It was calculating" (Connell). As Fredreck spoke, Sister Ramona and Father Peter Fagan comforted Linda Ugarte, Richard's mother. They became a constant presence in the courtroom and a reminder of the Yale community's support for the defendant.
The prosecution called Father Tartaglia to the stand to describe the summer morning when Herrin showed up at St. Mary's rectory in Coxsackie. The priest told the court that Herrin said he had killed his girlfriend in her Scarsdale home. "My immediate thought was, we are dealing with someone who is hallucinating...someone who doesn't seem in touch with reality," Father Tartaglia said. "Because the boy did come through, you know, with sincerity...it became very tragic, in my own judgment."
When Joan Garland took the stand, she was asked to describe the condition in which she found her daughter that awful morning when the Scarsdale police showed up at her door. "She was on her back, blood was all over the place," she told a hushed court room. "She was completely naked and uncovered. I thought she had been beaten...I ran downstairs and said, "What did he do to her?' and the police came running up...she was unconscious and gasping for breath" (Smothers). Through bitter tears, Mrs. Garland described her daughter's last moments of life as the jury listened intently.
When the day's testimony concluded, the defendant, along with his support team of Sister Ramona, Brother Thomas from Albany and Father Peter Fagan headed for the exit doors. When they reached the basement, the group parted. As Herrin said goodbye to Sister Ramona, he leaned over and kissed the nun on her lips. Nearby, a photographer snapped a picture. The image appeared in many newspapers the next day causing Sister Ramona to be the target of some intense public criticism. The event came to represent the unswerving support of the Yale religious community for Richard Herrin while her family suffered in stunned silence, numb with grief and confusion. And her father, a graduate of Yale himself, who had sent his own daughter to the prestigious university, experienced a unique kind of betrayal that transcended words.