The woman who allegedly shot and killed four people earlier this month has now been charged with the most serious offense in Vermont’s criminal code. But defense attorneys say police violated Jody Herring’s constitutional rights in the hours after she was arrested.
Again, Jody Herring shuffled into the Barre City courtroom in shackles. Again, her white flip flops clapped the bottoms of her heels as she made her way toward the defendant’s seat. And again, she pleaded not guilty to charges of murder.
But unlike her arraignment two weeks ago for the alleged murder of Department for Children and Families caseworker Lara Sobel, these latest charges involve the three women police say Herring shot to death just hours before she allegedly killed the state employee in a parking lot in downtown Barre.
And unlike the less severe murder charge brought in the Sobel case, they carry a minimum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“Obviously the charges for which Ms. Herring was arraigned today are the most serious possible charges under Vermont law, aggravated murder,” Attorney General Bill Sorrell said.
Sorrell said the aggravated murder charge is allowed in cases involving the killing of more than one person at a single time and location.
Police found the bodies of Regina Herring, 43, Rhonda Herring, 48 and Julie Falzarano, 73 – all relatives of Jody Herring – at a Berlin farmhouse the morning after they took Jody Herring into custody for the murder of Sobel. They say she committed the crimes the prior to killing the 48-year-old state worker.
Police affidavits in the case indicate that Herring had assembled a quote “hit list” of victims she intended to kill for the roles they played in her losing custody of her 9-year-old daughter. The affidavits feature damning forensic evidence that includes shell casings at the scene of the farmhouse that had been fired from the same hunting rifle Herring allegedly used in the Sobel murder.
And they include alleged statements from Herring in which she asks law enforcement officers, “Did you find the other three yet?”
The admissibility of those statements may soon come under legal challenge, however, since defense attorneys say Herring was wrongly denied access to counsel in the hours after her arrest. Defense attorney David Sleigh says the initial constitutional transgression occurred on the Friday night of Herring’s arrest. He says police continued to question Herring without a lawyer present the next day.
“Subsequently, when Officer Baxter went to the correctional facility in an attempt to interrogate Jody when he knew that she was represented, we think that was clear violation of the 6th Amendment, and we’ll litigate that to the extent that we need to,” Sleigh said.
Sorrell says the investigators did nothing wrong.
“We look forward to defending the very good work of Barre PD, Vermont State Police, Berlin PD and other law enforcement in the case,” Sorrell said.
Herring is being held without bail, and a judge has ordered her not to have contact with a long list of potential witnesses and other people. The judge in the case is expected to rule shortly on whether Herring’s sealed DCF case files will be admitted as evidence in the case.