BARRE, Vt. – A Vermont woman who shot and killed a state social worker and three of her own relatives as revenge for losing custody of her then 9-year-old daughter was sentenced Wednesday to life without parole.
Vermont Superior Court Judge John Pacht announced the sentence at the end of three-day hearing for 43-year-old Jody Herring.
Herring shot and killed Lara Sobel, a social worker as she was leaving work at the state's Department for Children and Families in Barre on Aug. 7, 2015. Police later discovered that she also had killed her two cousins, sisters Rhonda and Regina Herring, and an aunt, Julie Falzarano, in their Berlin home.
The shootings rattled the small state of Vermont, which has been among the safest states in the country, and led to fears among social workers, threats against them and changes in security measures at state office buildings.
"The case had consequences far beyond the severe damage it has done to the four individuals who were killed and their extended families," Matthew Levine, an assistant state attorney general who helped prosecute the case.
"By targeting Lara Sobel as a DCF worker at her place of employment, she was really assaulting the justice system as a whole," he said. "She was assaulting the social service network as a whole."
Relatives of those killed spoke of how the murders ripped their lives and families apart and how they continue to suffer.
Randy Herring, who lost his two sisters and mother, said a counselor told him he has depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
"My wife told me that she lost her husband because I can no longer feel happiness," he said.
Herring pleaded guilty in July to three counts of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree murder. Prosecutors say she has shown no remorse.
Herring's attorney, David Sleigh, had asked the judge for leniency because Herring has suffered a lifetime of abuse and trauma, has an anxiety disorder and had reached out unsuccessfully to state officials for help. He said in court filings that Herring's "reckless and negligent" early release from a 90-day mental health hospitalization was a factor in her having a psychotic break.
Levine said the evidence didn't support Sleigh's argument.
"The reality is that childhood abuse, substance abuse, mental health problems are all too common in our society, and while we should do everything we can to combat them, they don't and shouldn't justify, excuse or mitigate a planned brutal, savage, multiple murder," he said.
Herring, who showed no emotion during the trial and sentencing hearing, spoke in court, saying she understands how it feels to lose a child because she has lost custody of three children.
"I'm very sorry. I can't take back that day. I wish I could but I can't. I handle my stress so differently than anybody else does, and I wish could help myself," Herring said.
"I asked for help several times, and I didn't get it," she added.
After the sentencing, the family of Lara Sobel said they were grateful for the outcome.
"She took a life — my sister's life. She took three other lives, and she doesn't deserve to have one day of liberty," said her sister, Lauren Shapiro, of West Orange, New Jersey.
Shapiro said her sister spent her life helping others, and that's just part of the legacy she leaves behind.
"She was dedicated to the protection of the children of Vermont and to making a difference in this world," Shapiro said. "And truly today her legacy was honored."
This story has been corrected to show that under Vermont law, Herring faced a minimum sentence of 35 years to life.