A woman who murdered three relatives and a Department for Children and Families social worker was sentenced to life without parole Wednesday during an emotional hearing in Washington Superior Court.
Judge John Pacht said Jody Herring's August 2015 killing spree, triggered by the DCF's decision to take custody of her 9-year-old daughter, was the "hardest case" he'd seen in his 35-year legal career.
"I have a great deal of compassion for Jody Herring, but I also have an obligation to assure that this community is safe, that people can start to heal, and that the enormity of the crimes are reflected in the sentence," Pacht said before siding with prosecutors and handing Herring the maximum penalty for her crimes.
In a brief statement before she was sentenced, an emotional Herring apologized. She had each of her three children taken from her in custody proceedings — including a child that was conceived during a rape — and said she could empathize with the loss that her victims' families feel.
"I know how it feels. And I'm very sorry. I can't take back that day. I wish I could," said Herring, her voice severely shaking. "But I can't. I handle my stress so differently than anyone else does. I wish I could help myself. I asked for help several times, and I didn’t get it."
Herring shot social worker Lara Sobel, 48, outside the DCF office in downtown Barre on August 7, 2015. Hours later, police discovered that Herring had murdered three of her own family members — her aunt, Julie Falzarano, and cousins Regina Herring and Rhonda Herring — at a home in Berlin. Herring blamed them, too, for losing custody of her daughter.
Herring pleaded guilty in July to one count of first-degree murder and three counts of second-degree murder.
At Wednesday's sentencing hearing, a dozen family and friends of the four murdered women spoke about the impact Herring's crimes had on their lives.
Sobel's husband Tim Faryniarz has avoided the pubic eye but gave a poetic statement describing the difficulty of raising two young daughters who have been deprived of their mother. The girls were 14 and 11 at the time of their mother's death, he said. One had been on the phone with Sobel, asking her when she was coming home, in the moments before Herring opened fire.
"My girls lived for the memories of and hopes for a long life shared with their mommy," he said. "Lara planted the seeds of my girls' dreams. They grew beneath the nurturing of mommy. Our deep and abiding sadness and loss are wrapped around us like a blanket."
Sobel's family members asked that the maximum sentence be imposed. They said it would protect Sobel's children from having to testify at future parole hearings and from seeing Herring in the street.
"It is not an acceptable course of action to take the law into your own hands," said Sobel's only sister, Lauren Shapiro. "We and Lara's family are good people. We are decent, compassionate and respectful of the rule of law. We cannot forget this crime. We do not forgive it. We do not deserve it. I ask this court to show no mercy, no compassion and no leniency.”
Randy Herring said he has been emotionally devastated by the deaths of his mother and sisters. He gets up in the middle of the night and drives for hours, and keeps a gun close by.
"I am in complete anger at times and can't think straight. The emotions I feel every day make it hard to survive," Randy Herring said. "I wonder every day if I can make it to tomorrow.”
Jody Herring's attorney, David Sleigh, asked for a sentence that would have given Herring "some reasonable chance" at parole.
"Some people endure tragedies and calamities and horrible experiences better than others — that’s because some people are more capable," Sleigh said. "Some people lack that capability, through no fault of their own, and one of those people is Jody Herring. The system in many ways did let Jody down. Her life has been one of constant traumas, inadequately addressed."
But in his closing argument, Assistant Attorney General Matt Levine said Herring's background was no excuse for the premeditated killings. Levine said that she carried out her threats to "deliver Armageddon" and left crime scenes that looked "like a war zone."
"This case is an example of one of the most extreme, premeditated acts of multiple killings that we have ever witnessed in this state," Levine said. "These kinds of things seem to happen in other places more and more. For some reason, our state has been somewhat immune to this. But this case is an attack not only on the individuals targeted, but governmental institutions and societal norms as we know them. For that reason it takes on a different aura."
Several people in the courtroom — which was packed with family members of Herring and Sobel, law enforcement officials and DCF workers — applauded and cried when Pacht announced the sentence.
The day began with Sleigh making a last-ditch effort to force Washington County State's Attorney Scott Williams to testify at the hearing.
Williams originally was slated to testify on Tuesday. He had two roles in the incident: He was involved in the family court proceedings that resulted in Herring's daughter being taken from her. Williams was also the first person on the scene after Herring shot Sobel.
Pacht granted the request Tuesday during a proceeding shrouded in mystery. The judge referenced "Mr. Williams' circumstances at this point," and privacy concerns. Williams' office said he was out for the week.
John Campbell, executive director of the Department of State's Attorneys and Sheriffs, said Wednesday that Williams is on family medical leave.
"State’s Attorney Williams has followed our Department’s procedures for [leave]," Campbell said in a prepared statement. "He is expected to return to duty when authorized by his medical provider."
Campbell said that prosecutors in other counties have offered to help in Washington County. Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan confirmed to Seven Days that his office has engaged with Williams and offered to help with cases.