Although it failed, it was one of the most unique defenses in criminal history when attorneys argued that their client killed his female roommate while sleepwalking!
The so-called “Sleepwalk Murder Case” started on a March morning in 2017. When West Palm Beach, Florida resident Randy Herman Jr. “awoke,” he was stunned to see blood everywhere. There was blood on his hands, his body, the floor – and most horrifyingly, on the woman lying face-down at his feet – and on the hunting knife, usually kept at his bedside, still clutched in his hand.
Scurrying to the bathroom, he rested the knife on the countertop and scrubbed and washed and rinsed, though none of this seemed to make any sense to him. Panicked, disoriented, and thoroughly hung-over, Randy began to emerge from what felt like a dream-like daze.
The body was that of Brooke Preston, age 21, his long-time friend and current roommate.
Still in a haze, Randy drove to a park less than a mile from his home and dialed 911.
“Someone’s been murdered,” he told the operator, who pressed Randy for details. In response, he made a critical admission of guilt, “Just send the police,” he told the dispatcher between sobs. “It was me. I’m sorry.”
Herman and Preston had been lifelong friends. They relocated to West Palm Beach together, seeking a life of fun and adventure. Randy had left his home in rural Pennsylvania after his father had several run-ins with the law that eventually led to his suicide.
He packed up and sought a new life in Florida with Brooke and her sister Jordan. The three did live a kind of idyllic “party life,” but all that fun came to a screeching halt when with that haunting 911 call.
When they found her body, investigators said that Brooke had cuts that stretched across her palms and fingers, which indicated that she tried to protect herself as Randy attacked her. He stabbed most of her body, including her chest, back, and neck, more than two dozen times. Her throat was cut.
Neighbors would later recount to Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies the sounds of a woman’s screams coming from the house. None of them called 911.
The day Brooke was killed, the detectives told Randy shortly before they charged him with first-degree murder that the evidence — Brooke’s blood on Randy’s socks and hands, his skin beneath her fingernails, and the 911 call in which he told the operator he had murdered somebody — spoke for itself.
A distraught and borderline catatonic Randy sat before a pair of detectives not even two hours after the killing. Staring at his feet, he repeatedly called himself a “bad person” and a monster. His voice barely rose above stifled whimpers.
“I’m so sorry,” he said.
“I know you’re sorry,” one of the detectives said. “We gotta figure out what happened, man.”
During his trial, Randy’s defense alleged that he was unaware of his actions when he brutally killed Brooke. They had discovered that Randy had a history of somnambulism – or sleepwalking – and that he literally had killed Brooke in his sleep!
A New Hulu Documentary – “Dead Asleep”
Hulu has produced a True Crime documentary based on the case of the “Sleepwalker Murder.” The trailer for the film called Dead Asleep, which just dropped, recounts the adventures of the childhood pals after they relocated to Florida in a search for something new and exciting.
In the trailer, we hear the fateful 911 made by Herman, where he alerts the voice at the other end that not only has someone been murdered, but that he was the murderer. To the untrained eye, the case would seem to be open and shut, but in the trailer, we hear from public defender Joe Walsh, who says that there was just something not right about the case. Herman Jr. showed signs of remorse right off the bat and seemed to not recall the events that took place, something that Walsh describes as “profound amnesia.” Along with this missing memory surrounding the happenings of the slaying, Walsh says that there was no evidence to indicate a motive or any reason for Herman to commit the heinous crime.
Driven by this curiosity, the defense team begins to look into Herman Jr.’s past history involving sleepwalking. In the True Crime film, viewers will hear from both Herman Jr. and members of his family, including his mother, who claims her son has a lengthy history of walking in his sleep. Dead Asleep will also be using never before shared insight and interviews with both defense and prosecution attorneys, journalists who worked closely with the case, forensic psychiatrists, and world-renowned experts in the field of sleepwalking to tell the story behind the violent murder and the defensive push that was to follow.
Randy’s murder trial was not the first time in the United States that a defendant has put forth sleepwalking as a criminal defense. In 1846, a Boston man was acquitted in the slaying of a sex worker, whom he nearly decapitated. He then tried to burn down the brothel where she resided. His attorney claimed he was a chronic sleepwalker and killed the woman in a sleep state.
Considerably more recently, in 1997, a devout Mormon in Arizona stabbed his wife 44 times with a hunting knife. Investigators later said he dragged the mortally wounded woman to their backyard pool and held her head beneath the water, all while sleepwalking.
But, the jury wasn’t buying it in Randy’s case. In the end, the prosecutor’s argument that Brooke’s killing was a premeditated act, ostensibly driven by unrequited sexual desire, won over the jury. In May 2019, Randy was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Dead Asleep airs on Hulu Dec. 16. You can watch the trailer here.