A psychiatrist's first-rate study of criminal responsibility and the concept of commensurate punishment, in a tragic case:...



A psychiatrist's first-rate study of criminal responsibility and the concept of commensurate punishment, in a tragic case: the bludgeoning to death of Bonnie Garland, 20 (Yale '78), in her parents' Scarsdale home by Richard Herrin, 23 (Yale '75), erstwhile model-boy from a poor Mexican-American background. Aided by the Yale Catholic community, Herrin was out on bail and living a relatively normal life within a month after the killing. Then, convicted only of first-degree manslaughter (""extreme emotional disturbance"" as a mitigating factor), he drew an eight-to-25-year sentence--an outcome that satisfied no one. To Bonnie's bereaved family, the sentence was an insult: ""If you have a $30,000 defense fund, a Yale connection, and a clergy connection,"" said her embittered mother, ""you're entitled to one free hammer murder."" To the Catholic clerics who supported Herrin, the sentence was excessive: ""We were involved in being horrified with him, not judging him,"" said one nun. ""The girl is dead."" But, argues Gaylin, that's exactly the point: the girl is dead, and almost everyone involved in Herrin's defense ""seemed able to pass with unseemly ease from revulsion at the crime to sympathy for the criminal."" At trial, ""every shred of evidence was used to make Richard appear the pathetic and tormented victim."" Gaylin concedes that Herrin's defense counsel Jack Litman (""I come across terribly sincere"") did an excellent job at trial, though he attacks the chief defense psychiatrist's testimony as ""inconsistent . . . simplistic and probably wrong."" The prosecutor, Gaylin contends, simply blew the case--not only by focusing too much on beating the insanity defense (and thus slighting the defense's emotional-disturbance mitigation argument), but by failing to impress upon the jury the enormity of Bonnie's death. ""The jury should have been made to mourn for her."" From a purely psychiatric standpoint, Gaylin also takes his own look at Herrin. Is he psychotic? No. Is he ""normal""? Closer, at least, to that end of the spectrum. And for Gaylin, the bottom line is clear, though his conclusion may offend professionals enamored of the rehabilitative model: ""I don't care what good it may or may not serve. You deserve to be punished."" Lots of pluses here, whether or not one accepts Gaylin's hardline position: a well-told human tragedy; an extraordinarily detailed examination of the use (or misuse) of psychiatric testimony; and a provocative, personal statement of the meaning of ""justice.

Pub Date: May 28, 1982


Page Count: -

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1982