Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder of Bonnie Garland

The Dueling Psychiatrists.

The next day of the trial saw the first of several psychiatrists who debated the mental state of the defendant at the time of the killing on July 7, 1977. Dr. John Train, who had been retained by Jack Litman, was the first to testify.

"At the time that he struck Bonnie Garland," Dr. Train told the court, "he was suffering from a very severe mental illness...which produced an extreme emotional reaction and caused a significant loss in his capacity to know what he was doing was wrong" (Connell). In other words, Herrin was so twisted up by Bonnie's rejection of him that he temporarily lost all his ability to determine what was right and wrong, a condition that is the legal foundation for an insanity verdict. But upon cross examination, Dr. Train seemed to contradict himself. He told the court that someone under such stress would not be able to recall details of the event in question. Fredreck was able to demonstrate that Herrin recalled even the smallest of details of the murder.

Litman's second psychiatrist was Dr. Marc Rubenstein, a professor at Yale University. He had examined Herrin for 13 hours and reviewed all the letters that the two lovers had written to each other. Dr. Rubenstein said that Herrin "lacked the emotional wherewithal to accept Miss. Garland's wish to date and perhaps sleep with other men." Bonnie had become the focus of Herrin's life to such a degree, he said, that she had become the cornerstone of his psychic stability. "At this time," Dr. Rubenstein told the court, "he was in a state called aggravated depression. This was a crisis that was beyond his ability to understand" (Connell).

Not to be outdone, the prosecution offered its own psychiatric testimony. First on the stand was Dr. A. Leonard Abrams who had testified in dozens of trials in the New York area. "He did not suffer from mental disease or defect ...I found no indication of psychoses. Absolutely none" (Meyer 247). Next to testify was Dr. Abraham Halpern who told the court that Herrin was "not functioning under any unusual stress at that time. He was under some pressures" (Connell).

Dr. Abraham Halpern
Dr. Abraham Halpern

On June 14, 1987, Jack Litman gave his final statement to the jury. He emphasized that the defendant was under extreme emotional duress and was unable to determine the difference between right and wrong. "Was smashing the skull of the woman who was the center of his life, without conscious motive, the action of a sane person?" he asked the court. "Or was it the irrational act of a mind...so overwhelmed by his stress, a mind unable to be fully aware of the enormity of the horror of what was happening?" (Meyer 253).

Fredreck, in an impassioned closing statement, told the court that a verdict of anything other than guilty would be an injustice since Herrin was in no extreme emotional state at the time of the offense. Fredreck used Herrin's own words that when he killed Bonnie, he felt nothing. "Ladies and gentlemen, based on the testimony in this case," he told the jury, "This insanity plea is an insult to your intelligence. He's suffering from instant insanity, the chief ingredient of which is fear of conviction. This is a concoction to avoid responsibility...for a planned, cold, calculated killing..." (Smothers).

But as he took his chair, Fredreck was reminded once again of what he was up against. Behind the defense table, Sister Ramona sat quietly in her seat. "She would sit in the second row in front of the courtroom and pray. Pray!" said Fredreck later. "With her rosary beads and her eyes closed!" (Meyer 269).

 

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