Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder of Bonnie Garland

A New Life

Despite a charge of murder hanging over his head, Herrin began his new life under the watchful eye of Catholic leadership. Sister Ramona soon made arrangements for him to travel to the Christian Brothers in Albany. She accompanied Herrin to the school where he settled into a quiet life of reflection and introspection. Since he could not leave New York, his studies at Texas Christian University were cancelled, bringing his quest for an advanced degree to an abrupt end. With the help and influence of the Christian Brothers, Herrin enrolled at and was accepted by the State University at Albany. He began to attend classes under the name of "Richard James." Four days a week, Herrin was on campus in several different under-graduate anthropology courses. No one, including students who were in his classes, knew that he was awaiting trial on murder charges. At night, he played rugby with the school team.

When the details of Herrin's freedom were revealed in the press, there was an immediate uproar. Complaints were made to the Westchester County District Attorney's Office. SUNY was forced to dismiss Herrin from enrollment. But at the Christian Brothers Academy, the staff was dumbfounded. They couldn't understand any of the criticism. "We thought of Richard as a good, honest person," one brother said. "There was no reason to be afraid of him" (Meyer 181).

To the Garland family, the efforts by the Catholic community to assist and comfort their daughter's killer were outrageous and intensely hurtful. Paul Garland, who graduated from Yale, saw these activities as a betrayal and a hateful conspiracy against his family. "The result of their actions is that my family suffers from the uncertainty that justice will ever be done," he told one reporter. "Actions which were not only dangerous to society but overwhelmingly cruel to our family as we try to rebuild our lives" (Smothers 34). But when Yale Chaplain Rev. Richard Russell heard of the criticism against his efforts to help Herrin, he wrote a letter to the Garland family. "I believe that all involved, including myself," he wrote, "are working from a Christian concern of a brother who has fallen. I believe we are working to imitate Christ's assertion that 'people who are healthy do not need a doctor, sick people do" (Smothers).  But Rev. Russell's logic failed to convince the Garland family.

Lasalle Academy building
Lasalle Academy building

In a letter he wrote to the New York Archdiocese, Paul Garland vented his anger. "Is it appropriate for a church, without consideration of the impact on the family of the victim, to participate in efforts to secure the release of a confessed killer? What is the moral responsibility of a church if Herrin escapes, commits suicide or kills or harms others?" (Gaylin 150). The New York Times later reported, "It was largely through the involvement of the priests, the nuns and the parishioners at Yale that the Christian Brothers Order's Lasalle Academy in Albany offered to be responsible for Mr. Herrin while he was out on bail" (Smothers).

 

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