A Killing in Central Park: The Preppy Murder Case
Battle Lines are Drawn
But Litman's most famous trial to date was the Bonnie Garland murder, a case that became known for its "blame the victim defense." Garland was a 20-year-old Yale University student in 1977 who was sleeping in her own bed at home in Scarsdale, New York. A man, later identified as fellow student Richard Herrin, broke into her room and bludgeoned her to death with a hammer. Herrin was a former boyfriend who was spurned by Garland. When the case came to trial, Litman offered the defense that Herrin was acting under a sort of diminished capacity because he was mistreated by Garland. Eventually, Herrin was convicted on a lesser charge of manslaughter. But Litman suffered through a great deal of criticism from an angry press and a fed-up public who saw his tactics as a further degradation of the victim. The Bonnie Garland murder was well remembered in 1986 and soon, protesters marched in the streets carrying signs that denounced Litman for his role in the Chambers case.
On September 29, Litman asked the court for bail. In support of the request, he supplied the names of dozens of character witnesses including a letter of support from Archbishop Theodore McCarrick of Newark, New Jersey. McCarrick knew Phyllis Chambers and Robert from the time she worked as a nurse for Cardinal Cooke of New York. He wrote that Robert was an outstanding young man who surely would not hurt anyone. Although most murder defendants were denied bail, Judge Howard E. Bell was persuaded. He set bail at $150,000 and added one condition. If released, Chambers would have to report regularly to a Monsignor Leonard in a church in Washington Heights. Fairstein was outraged. In the Bonnie Garland case, the defendant was also released on bail and also placed under the supervision of the Catholic Church.
When Judge Bell announced his decision to grant bail, he told the court he was "deeply concerned about the families on both sides in this case. The court finds that bail in this case is appropriate." Ellen Levin burst into tears when she heard the ruling and ran from the courtroom. The Chambers family tried to raise the cash but could not get all the money together. Jack Dorrian, owner of Dorrian's Red Hand, posted the remaining bail. Concerning the propriety of providing bail money, Dorrian said, "At least his mother has the comfort of having him out of jail for now. I'm sure the mother of the victim would understand that." But, of course, she didn't. The vision of her child being viciously strangled in the darkness of Central Park obscured her ability to see things as clearly as others.