MONTPELIER — The Vermont Supreme Court will hear oral argument next month in Jody Herring’s appeal of her murder convictions.
Herring, 43, was sentenced to life without parole 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. The court will hear oral argument in the case at 9 a.m. Feb. 19.
She is being represented by Joshua O’Hara out of the Defender General’s office. O’Hara has filed documents with the court stating 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 for why she shouldn’t have been sentenced to life without parole.
O’Hara argued Pacht also abused his discretion by concluding, 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 is being represented by Solicitor General Benjamin Battles out of the Attorney General’s office. Battles has filed documents with the court saying 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.
Battles said there is no program that the Department of Corrections offers that would give Herring “the exact tools she needs to not commit another murder.” He also referred to the pre-sentence investigation conducted by DOC, which he said did not specify how a parole board would be able to judge if she was rehabilitated.
O’Hara filed a response saying DOC is required by law to provide mental health services that are available for all of its inmates and all inmates with a history of a mental conditions are to undergo an evaluation from the DOC. The DOC will then come up with a plan for Herring to address her needs, according to O’Hara.