MONTPELIER — The Vermont Supreme Court has rejected convicted murderer Jody Herring’s appeal of her sentence of life in prison without parole.
Herring, 43, was sentenced in November 2017 for killing Department for Children and Families worker Lara Sobel, 48, and three relatives — cousins Rhonda Herring, 48, Regina Herring, 43, and her aunt, Julie Falzarano, 73. Herring killed Sobel outside the DCF offices at Barre City Place on Aug. 7, 2015. Police said she killed her family members at a Berlin farmhouse earlier that day, although their bodies were not discovered until the next day.
She pleaded guilty to four counts of murder in July 2017.
Because Herring was given a life sentence, state law requires the case be appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court.
She was represented by Joshua O’Hara out of the Defender General’s office. O’Hara argued Judge John Pacht, who sentenced Herring, abused his discretion because he used Herring’s history of trauma against her instead of using it as a mitigating factor against a life sentence.
O’Hara argued that Pacht concluded, erroneously, that Herring would be released without rehabilitation if she were allowed parole. He said when someone has the ability to get parole, whether they are rehabilitated is taken into consideration.
The state was represented by Solicitor General Benjamin Battles out of the Attorney General’s office. Battles argued that Pacht wasn’t required to weigh Herring’s past more heavily than the other evidence considered in the case, including the evidence that suggested Herring’s prospects for treatment were “dim.”
Battles argued Pacht also did not sentence Herring with the thought that she would be released on parole without treatment.
The two sides made their cases via oral argument in February. The state Supreme Court released its decision Friday siding with the state.
The court said Pacht did take Herring’s history, and the subsequent anxiety disorder that resulted from it, into account when he sentenced her, but in his sentencing remarks he did not find it was the primary cause for her to commit the murders. It said rage appeared to be the motivating factor in the killings. The court said Pacht did not abuse his discretion.
“Finally, to the extent that the court took defendant’s anxiety-related mistrust of others — and the resulting likelihood that she might resist treatment — into account in sentencing her to life imprisonment without parole, this was a legitimate consideration because of its link to the prospective safety of the community,” the Supreme Court wrote.
It added later on in the decision that risk to public safety is something a court is required to consider when sentencing someone.
The court said Pacht did not hold Herring’s past against her and did appear to use it as a mitigating circumstance like O’Hara wanted.
As for the rehabilitation piece, the court said Pacht was clear when he explained he gave Herring the life sentence without parole based on “the magnitude of the crime,” not on whether Herring would be receptive to treatment.
“The court repeatedly emphasized the nature of the crime, and the effects it had on the victims’ families and friends, and on the safety and well-being of DCF workers,” the Supreme Court wrote.