By Morgan True, VTDigger.org
BARRE — Jody Herring pleaded not guilty to one count of first degree murder in the killing of Lara Sobel, a Department of Children and Families social worker, at a Monday, Aug. 10, arraignment in Washington County Superior Court.
Herring is being held without bail, and her attorney David Sleigh, a prominent defense lawyer, did not contest his client being jailed.
Herring is also suspected of killing three relatives prior to Sobel’s killing, though no charges have yet been filed against her relating to that triple homicide.
Attorney General Bill Sorrell, who is prosecuting the case, confirmed a link is being investigated between the two incidents, but was unable to provide further detail. Sorrell said in an interview following the arraignment that Herring is the only person of interest in the triple homicide investigation. Additional charges could be filed against Herring early next week, he said.
A funeral for Sobel was scheduled for Tuesday at 2 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Montpelier, according to an obituary provided by the family.
One witness account in the affidavit places Herring in her vehicle surveilling City Place, apparently waiting for Sobel just before the shooting.
Herring was subdued by witnesses at the scene. Among them was Washington County state’s attorney, Scott Williams, who was able to separate Herring from the Remington .270 caliber rifle reportedly used in the killing.
Williams was exercising at Rehab Gym inside City Place and ran to the parking lot after hearing shots. Williams recused himself from Herring’s case, which is why the Attorney General has stepped in.
“I’m available to help the state and the Attorney General’s office as much as possible, but the reality is I’m a material witness. So, I can’t be involved in the legal proceedings, which is highly frustrating,” Williams said following the arraignment.
Herring’s criminal history, released in an affidavit, should have prevented her from obtaining a firearm. Sorrell would not comment on the rifle’s provenance or whether Herring could face additional firearm charges. The first degree murder charge carries a mandatory minimum 35-year sentence, and could result in a life sentence without parole.
Officers report that Herring was calm after being taken into custody. En route to the Barre City Police Department she “continued to laugh and talk about the victim,” according to the affidavit. Herring later became irate when investigators attempted to interview her, railing against the police about “the injustices suffered at the hand of DCF.”
Her belt contained additional .270 caliber rounds, and a search of her home and vehicle uncovered additional live and spent rounds for the rifle, the affidavit states. Investigators also discovered a receipt from the Berlin Walmart dated June 2 for $20.08 in ammunition.
Herring has 11 misdemeanor convictions dating back to 1992, court records show. She was arrested for DUI in late June, in a case that is still pending. The convictions include heroin possession, credit card fraud, driving with a suspended license and others. In one instance, a domestic assault charge resulted in a lesser disorderly conduct conviction.
Herring also has a lengthy history in family court. Her daughter, Desiree Herring, said Herring lost custody of each of her three children for a period of time.
Dwayne Herring told police that Jody Herring attempted to reach him Friday, according to the affidavit.
In a message she said words to the effect that “If you think anything of your sister you’ll get a hold of me now or ASAP.” In a subsequent message sent minutes later at 3 p.m., Herring who, reportedly sounded hysterical, said “Watch the news you’ll wish you got ahold of me earlier.”
Sorrell’s office filed a motion for Herring to undergo a competency assessment to determine if she’s fit to stand trial. Sleigh requested a 10 day delay to gather more information before deciding whether to contest the assessment, which Superior Court Judge Kevin Griffin granted.
Speaking after the arraignment Sleigh said, “It’s just the beginning. (Herring) has pleaded not guilty and process will play out, and I think there’s a lot that doesn’t meet the eye.”
Sleigh filed an unsuccessful motion to have the arraignment in Burlington instead of the court house in Barre, several hundred feet from where the killing took place. Sorrell said afterward that he opposed the motion, and that he believes the case should be heard in Barre, out of deference to the victim’s family and others who may want to attend.