The Murder of Bonnie Garland
Richard James Herrin was born in Los Angeles in the section of the city commonly known as el barrio. He was the son of a Mexican mother and an Irish father who left the family while Richard was still an infant. Ambitious as a teenager, Richard studied hard and worked hard. In 1971, Richard finished first in his graduating class of 415 at Abraham Lincoln High School in East L.A. He played sports, including football, was well known and respected by most students. He participated in student government and had never been in trouble. In short, he was a model student.
Richard applied to a number of colleges during his senior year and hoped to attend a school close to home. Since his family was not wealthy, Richard prayed for a scholarship based on his outstanding performance during high school. The early 1970s was a time when colleges were mindful of their obligation to minority students. Since Richard came from a poor Mexican-American family and maintained an excellent academic record in high school, several colleges accepted his application. However, only one, Yale, awarded him a full scholarship. It was an easy decision to make. In the fall semester of 1975, Richard entered the strange new world of the Ivy League college, a world that he later said was so foreign to him, and he might as well have been transported to another planet.
Beginning with his very first class at Yale, Richard performed poorly. During his entire four years at the university, he received only one "A" grade. He made few friends and never achieved the type of commitment needed for a college career. In his book on the case, The Killing of Bonnie Garland, Dr. Willard Gaylin writes, "On arrival at Yale, he abandoned whatever academic discipline, intellectual curiosity, energy, or industry that had sustained him through high school." His grades suffered accordingly and his personal contacts deteriorated as well. Richard was known as a quiet young man who mostly kept to himself. "He was somebody who could be called upon to pour oil on troubled waters. He was a calming influence" (Connell). Richard's style of dress was one of concern at Yale, which was the flagship for the conservative upwardly-mobile man. He dressed in floppy blue jeans, "T" shirts and sneakers with no socks. He became overweight, lazy and was considered a malingerer in a universe of high-achievers. He shied away from almost every activity, whether it was academics or sports, and tended to be a loner.
"I never adopted that preppie mentality," he said later, "but that speaks of the whole question of my attitude at Yale, my confidence, my self-confidence, which was almost non-existent while I was there...I just never gave myself a chance to even try to compete...never really got started" (Gaylin 48-49)