Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder of Bonnie Garland

'The Poster boy for Affirmative Action'

Bonnie Garland, young
Bonnie Garland, young

Few murder cases in recent times inspire the type of anger and bewilderment as the killing of Bonnie Garland. Although the crime occurred in the bucolic Village of Scarsdale, New York, one of the wealthiest communities in America, it is sometimes called the Yale Murder case. The story of Bonnie Garland is a tragic one, underscored by the curious manner in which her killer was treated after his capture. The details of the murder were unchallenged: a former Yale student used a hammer to smash his girlfriend's skull to pieces while she slept in her own bed.  The suspect later confessed and explained he did it because Bonnie had rejected him. In a perfect world, he would have received no mercy for such a horrendous crime.

Richard Herrin, college photo
Richard Herrin, college photo

But beginning on the very day of his arrest, Richard James Herrin, a mediocre student, an under-achiever and described by one source as "the poster boy for affirmative action," enjoyed a level of compassion and kindness that at times, seemed like something out of the pages of the most outlandish fiction. He was suddenly transformed into the "misunderstood youth," the victim of both a cruel society and a callous Bonnie Garland; the poor ghetto youth who could not be expected to understand the ways of the upper-class who brought him nothing but disrespect in his life. Yes, his supporters told the press, Richard was just another victim of this crime. He had suffered badly at the hands of an insensitive girlfriend who had the gall to date other men. So badly, in fact, that the only way he could adequately vent his feelings was to kill her.

This avalanche of sympathy for the defendant began on the campus of nationally-renowned Yale University and ultimately played out under the protective umbrella of the Catholic Church, whose members fiercely protected Richard Herrin and lovingly guided him through the difficult days of his incarceration and trial for the murder of Bonnie Garland.


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