The Yale Murder

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Scarsdale, New York, July 7th of 1977-
20 year old Bonnie Garland had been dating her college sweetheart, Richard Herrin, since she was a freshman – for about 2 years. 23 year old Richard had recently graduated from Yale with degrees in geology and geophysics, and he’d moved to Texas for a graduate program. By this time the couple had been apart for a bit and Bonnie had come to the realization that she just might be happier single. So she wrote Richard a Dear John letter explaining how she felt; in this letter Bonnie also expressed her concern for Richard’s mental health, she’d been aware of just how obsessed he’d been with her. She suggested that maybe he should seek professional help in dealing with the breakup.

Bonnie was right, Richard was upset – so upset that he dropped everything right then and traveled all the way from Texas to New York to see her. She’d had no idea that he was coming, yet there he was. Bonnie’s parents hadn’t realized that the young couple were breaking up; they felt they knew Richard pretty well and he had nowhere else to stay so, being good and gracious people they invited their daughter’s friend to stay in their spare room on the opposite end of the home.

Richard had come to New York in the hopes that he could change Bonnie’s mind, but she was adamant. She was young, smart, and she wanted to date around a bit before she settled down forever. To be young and free, and that’s her right, isn’t it?

Well Richard would’ve disagreed with us. After they’d talked, he retired to the spare room, but he’d had no intentions of sleeping. At 2 am, when he was certain everyone was asleep, Richard went downstairs in search of a weapon; he found a hammer, wrapped it up in a towel, and headed back to Bonnie’s bedroom. At first he left said hammer in the hallway, Richard wanted to be sure that his victim was sleeping soundly before he attacked. When he was certain, he walked back out into the hall, grabbed that hammer, and using the claw end Richard repeatedly bashed Bonnie’s skull and throat in. He would later confess, “Her head split open like a watermelon. The hammer stuck in and I had to pull it out.” All of this occurred as the young woman’s parents and 3 younger siblings soundly slept just down the hall.

After he’d murdered the young woman he had claimed to love, Richard stole Bonnie’s parent’s car, and he drove about 100 miles before stopping at St. Mary’s Church in Coxsackie. Covered in blood, Richard went inside; the killer confessed to a priest, and turned himself in. This all took place before Bonnie had even been found; matter of fact, the police were the ones who discovered Bonnie. At 8 in the morning they knocked on Bonnie’s front door, and explained to the parents what had happened; sadly Bonnie was still hanging on, she passed away later that day.

During police interrogation Richard confessed again. He was very honest about what he’d done, and told police exactly what had happened. Investigators had all the physical evidence they needed, the killer had confessed to anyone willing to listen, and there killer had plenty of motive. So, this is an obvious case of premeditated 1st degree murder; open and shut, right?
Wrong!

Prominent members of Yale and Catholic communities rallied around Richard; a nun named Sister Ramona Pena was responsible for organizing a support system for this killer. A Yale pediatrician even used her home as collateral to get the killer out on bail! Jack Litman, a very successful attorney who had never lost a murder case, took pity on this killer. He agreed to take on the case for a minimal fee.

At court Richard’s attorney really played on the jury’s sympathy. It was said that Richard had never really fit in anywhere, he’d grown up in the barrios of Los Angeles; his parents had been alcoholics, his father had never bothered to make an honest woman of his mother, and due to this Richard suffered from severe abandonment issues. In spite if it all, Richard was a bright young man who succeeded scholastically; he’d had his choice in which college he wanted to attend, he was offered several full ride scholarships. Richard had chosen Yale. The defense argued that Richard had struggled at college, and barely graduated – much of this was due to the fact that he wasn’t as privileged as the other students. And since he was Hispanic, Richard never really fit in with the other students who’d attended Yale; he was really a good young man, just deeply misunderstood.

When Bonnie had told Richard that she wanted to “sleep around”, poor Richard just couldn’t handle it. The defense spoke of this 20 year old girl as if she were a monster for coming from a well to-do family, for wanting to end a romantic relationship, and planning to date other men. Unbelievably, the jury just ate this up; they felt nothing but sympathy for this poor misguided youth! Still, since Richard had confessed multiple times he was obviously guilty of something. The jury had the option of 1st degree murder, 2nd degree, or manslaughter. On June 18 of 1978 this cold blooded premeditated murderer was found guilty of only manslaughter!

The judge sentenced the killer to the maximum penalty by law: 25 years. Richard served only 17 years for brutally taking a young woman’s life; on January 12th of 1995, when he was just 40 years of age, Richard was released. He was still young enough to make a good life for himself, and it appears that he’s done just that. In ’97 Richard moved to New Mexico to run a safe community agency which focuses on mental health.

Of course Bonnie’s parents were beside themselves, can you even imagine? Bonnie father wrote: “Yale people, past and present, have rushed to the aid and support of the killer, in an organized and systematic manner. Richard Herrin successfully got away with murder”. Bonnie’s parents sued Richard in civil court and they were awarded 40K. Surely that fixes everything.

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