Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder of Bonnie Garland

Herrin Speaks

"Speaking quietly and carefully, his face evidencing a range of emotions, Richard James Herrin took the witness stand in Westchester Court Tuesday to admit killing his Scarsdale girlfriend," said one press account on June 7, 1978 (Connell).  Litman wanted the jury to hear Herrin's explanation of how and why he killed Bonnie. It was important for the defense to let the court see the troubled young man on the stand. Maybe they could understand that Herrin was deeply obsessive of Bonnie and her rejection of him could be interpreted as a valid reason for murder.

When Litman asked his client if he murdered her, Herrin looked straight ahead and quietly replied: "Yes, I did."

"Why?"

"I...I don't know," he said. Herrin went on to describe his relationship with Bonnie since they met in 1975 when she was freshman at Yale. He told the court of their ups and downs together during that time and how they were separated when he left for his graduate studies at Texas Christian University. He said that he was tortured by the idea that he was losing Bonnie and feared he may never see her again. When he discovered that she was seeing another man in 1975, Herrin said he was devastated. He began to imagine hurting her for what she was doing to him.

"There were scenes popping into my head, like little nightmares," he told the court. He fantasized about committing suicide together and mutilating her body.

"I was ashamed for having thoughts like that in my head," he said. But when he received the last letter from Bonnie in July 1977, Herrin said, he was destroyed by the news that she had decided that she wanted to see other men as well. "I started crying," he told the jury. "I fell on the bed and cried. I spent the next two or three hours reading the letter and crying...then I would read the letter again and go into despair." As Herrin broke down on the stand, Judge Richard Daronco called a recess so the young man could compose himself. When he returned, Litman guided him through his thoughts on the night he killed Bonnie.

"I was flipping the pages (of a magazine) and looking at Bonnie," he said, "it came to me that I had to kill her and kill myself."

"Did you debate that in your head?" asked Litman.

"No!"

"What did you feel at that time?"

"I didn't feel anything," Herrin replied. But prosecutor Fredreck was not moved by Herrin. During a brief but intense cross examination, he asked again about his feelings on the night of the murder.

"Mr. Herrin," asked Fredreck, did you tell your attorney at the time you killed Bonnie you felt no emotion?"

"That is correct," said Herrin.

"And when you walked into Bonnie's room with the hammer in your hand, did you intend to kill her?"

"Yes, I did."

"I have nothing further, Judge," said Fredreck.

 

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