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Nov 15, 3:26 PM EST

Vermont woman who killed 4 sentenced to life without parole



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BARRE, Vt. (AP) -- A Vermont woman who shot and killed a state social worker and three 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.

"I have a great deal of compassion and understanding for Jody Herring, but I also have an obligation to ensure that this community is safe, that people can start to heal and the enormity of the crimes are reflected in the sentence," Vermont Superior Court Judge John Pacht said.

Lara Sobel, a social worker for the Vermont Department for Children and Families, was shot and killed with a rifle as she left work on Aug. 7, 2015. Police later determined Herring had killed her relatives in their Berlin home before she killed Sobel, although their bodies were not discovered until the next day.

The slain relatives were two cousins, Rhonda Herring and Regina Herring, and an aunt, Julie Falzarano.

After the sentencing, the family of Lara Sobel said they were grateful for the outcome.

"As a family, we are very grateful that the court saw things the way we've been seeing things and that Jody Herring will never be out there to live one day of freedom," said Sobel's sister, Lauren Shapiro, of West Orange, New Jersey. "She took a life - my sister's life - and she doesn't deserve to have one day of liberty."

Herring, who showed no emotion during the trial and sentencing hearing, spoke in court, saying she understands the loss of 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.

Court documents say Herring was seeking revenge against those she believed responsible for her losing her daughter.

Herring pleaded guilty in July to three counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of her relatives and one count of first-degree murder. The plea deal called for sentences of 20 years to life for the second-degree murder charges. It was up to Pacht to impose the sentence on the first-degree murder charge.

State law calls for a minimum of 35 years to life for a first-degree murder conviction, up to life without parole.

Herring's attorney, David Sleigh, had asked the judge for leniency because Herring has suffered a lifetime of abuse and trauma, and she had reached out to state officials for help, but didn't get it.

In a court filing, Sleigh wrote that Herring had been going through a mental health crisis earlier that year and was released early from what was supposed to have been a 90-day involuntary commitment to a psychiatric ward at a hospital. Had she not been released, she would not have been free on the days of the shootings, Sleigh wrote.

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This story has been corrected to show that under Vermont law, Herring faced a minimum sentence of 35 years to life.

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