Sharing a room with people who are not family members or spouses is common among American adults, especially young adults trying to share the cost of living. The arrangement will foster friendship and companionship between the roommates if they are on good terms. Sharing a room with a childhood friend would be a dream for many, and this was the case with Brooke Preston and Randy Herman Jr. until the unexpected happened.
On March 25, 2017, a terrifying story unfolded that shattered the hopes of the two young adults and left their families, friends, and community in disbelief and sorrow. On that fateful day, the vibrant 22-year-old Brooke Preston was stabbed to death by her roommate and childhood friend Randy Herman Jr. in their house in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Shortly after the incident, Herman called 911 and confessed to committing the murder. However, in his defense, he claimed that he stabbed his roommate while sleepwalking out of a bad hangover. This article explores in detail the unfolding occurrences that led to Brooke Preston’s murder and the rationality of Randy Herman Jr’s sleepwalking defense.
How Did Brooke Preston and Herbert’s Roommate Relationship Begin?
Perhaps some of the questions many people have concerning this story include; How the two young adults became roommates? And did Brooke Preston and Randy Herbert Jr. have a romantic relationship?
According to the information shared by the controversial Hulu documentary “Dead Asleep,” the two had a shared childhood history. They had grown together in Wyalusing, Pennsylvania. Preston’s sister Jordan got an opportunity to work in Florida, and the two decided to follow her there. The trio resided in a three-bedroom, one-bathroom house, sharing a brother-sister relationship.
All the sources show that Preston and Herbert were not in a romantic relationship. Their social media accounts only had photos and videos of their happy moments, as they would frequently hang out together and drink to excess at the beach and at parties they hosted in their West Palm Beach home.
Unraveling the Events that Led to Brooke Preston’s Tragic Demise
According to Herman, Brooke Preston had decided to move to New York to live with her boyfriend. As a result, she returned to their home in the early hours of March 25 to pick up a few of her belongings that had remained there and say goodbye to her friends. Thus, her visit was like a last happy moment with Herman- who had some drinking issues at the time, as evident in his two drinking under the influence (DUIs) records showing that he drank more than 30 beers daily.
When Brooke Preston arrived, Herbert had a bad hangover, but he managed to help her park a shirt memorizing their mutual friend who had died in a drunken accident. After they hugged goodbye, Herman claimed that he saw Preston leaving his room and fell back to sleep. The next thing he remembers is that he was awake, standing over Preston’s body while holding a knife.
About 20 minutes later, Herman left the house, drove to the park, and called 911. From Herman’s side of the story, in less than half an hour, he had seen and interacted with Brooke Preston, fallen asleep, and stabbed her about 20 times.
Upon arriving at the park where Herman had called from, they found him standing near a pavilion at Haverhill Park near Palm Beach. Responders who arrived first on the scene explained that Herman was covered with blood, and his left hand had a wound between his thumb and index finger.
The police picked Herman up from the park and returned to his shared house with Brooke Preston. They discovered the grisly crime scene and the alleged murder weapon, described as a “hunting-style knife.” Preston’s body lay under a blanket, and investigators revealed that she had defensive wounds on her hand.
Herbert Jr’s Sleepwalking Defense and Courts Verdict
In his testimony in 2019, Herman said, “The next thing I know, I’m standing over top of her, and I have a knife in my hand, covered in blood.” Describing the instant he woke up, he said, “I was confused. Scared. Didn’t know what to do. Didn’t know what happened.”
During the trial, Herman’s lawyers tried hard to convince the jury that their client was sleepwalking when he stabbed Brooke Preston 20 times. Herbert pleaded not guilty because he committed the act when insane. However, the jury rejected Herman’s sleepwalking claim, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. He is currently serving his sentence at the Hardee Correctional Facility in Bowling Green, approximately 30 miles south of Lakeland.
His case elicited divergent public opinion, and even Hulu released a documentary titled “Dead Asleep” in defense of Herman. The documentary has, however, aroused reactions from different people, especially family members who want the documentary to be pulled down.
Sleepwalking: A Myth or Plausible Defense?
Sleepwalking is an exhilarating phenomenon where an individual can perform physical activities while asleep. While this phenomenon is backed by scientific evidence, it begs for answers if it is a potential defense strategy and whether it holds water in the courtroom.
When the case went to trial, Herman’s defense argued that their client was sleepwalking when he murdered his roommate Brooke Preston. Although uncommon, sleepwalkers can commit murder. There have been several cases where the “sleepwalking defense” was used, and the defendants were acquitted. Such cases include Massachusetts v. Tirrel 1846, Fain v. Commonwealth, and State v. Bradley.
Why Herman’s Sleepwalking Defense for Brooke Preston’s Murder Was Rejected
Although there were other out-of-state trials where the ‘sleepwalking defense’ had been used to acquit the defendants, the prosecutors rejected the defense in this case. There are certain conditions that murder should meet to be attributed to sleepwalking. Some of these attributes include a defendant with a history of sleepwalking, no superficial motive, and a victim with a close relationship with the attacker. Herman’s case meets most of these standards, but why did the jury not buy into it?
Although Herman maintained that he didn’t have any memories of what happened when he killed Brooke Preston, the claim for sleepwalking was first brought up by his mother. She informed the investigators that her son had several sleepwalking incidents, and in the most remarkable incident, he rode a bike to his workplace while asleep.
In 2019, a 12-member jury rejected Herman’s sleepwalking defense for Brooke Preston’s murder. After examining the explanation of the events that led to Preston’s, the jury branded the killing as one stirred by unreciprocated feelings. One of Herman’s friends, who believed that Herman was “crushing” on Preston, revealed that the previous night, Herman had curled up naked in Preston’s closet while drunk and confused. Additionally, the prosecutors found his sleepwalking defense rather vague, with Assistant State Attorney Reid Scot arguing, “This is skin, this is bone, this is muscle (he’s stabbing. You are not going to sleepwalk through that.”
Furthermore, Herman claimed that he spoke to Preston a few minutes before killing her. In his testimony, he said he remembered waking up from his bed when Preston came to his room and took a shirt he gave her. Then he remembers stabbing Preston to death a few minutes later, but he believes he was dreaming. In their documentary “Dead Asleep,” Hulu argues that Herman’s memory of being awake a few minutes before the stabbing was possibly a dream or an imaginary memory.
However, it is the memory claim that the jury pointed to as the reason they sentenced Herman to a life sentence in 2019. According to Skye Borgman, the director of “Dead Asleep,” in an interview with Oxygen.com, the jurors explained that after putting the timeline together, they felt that Herbert could not have returned to sleep. He believed that the immediate circumstances, such as the prior behavior, his sleep patterns, and his alcohol intake, would possibly get him sleepwalking and in a deep sleep. Still, also it was possible that he had not fallen asleep.
Thus, the jurors decided on the timeline of events, arguing that if the interaction with Brooke Preston was not an imagination, Herman could not have fallen into a deep sleep.
Still, Herman holds that he does not remember stabbing Brooke Preston. In his letter to Miami Times, he tried to share the conflicted feelings he encounters as he serves a life sentence. He believes that the chilling act that led to his imprisonment was a culmination of tremendous stress, depression, trauma, and alcohol, eventually leading to an indescribable mental breakdown. He went and wrote, “I’m beyond sorry…Part of me feels like I deserve a life sentence… but the other part of me knows I did not intentionally do this and I deserve a second chance in life.”
The Aftermath of Brooke Preston’s Murder on Her Loved Ones
Nothing compares to the pain and grief accompanying losing a loved one. The tragic demise of Brooke Preston in the hands of a family friend caused significant trauma to her family, especially her sister Jordan Preston, with whom they were residing together.
The controversial case had drawn significant public attention, and in December 2021, Hulu released a documentary, “Dead Asleep,” in which the producers sought to validate Herbert’s “sleepwalking defense.” This was against Brooke’s family’s will, who had pleaded with them not to release the documentary.
As a result, Brooke’s sister, Jordan Preston, in a series of TikTok videos, blasted the network for releasing coverage from the moment the family discovered that Brooke was dead, reminding them of the worst day of their lives, depicting Herman in a positive light and supporting his lies.
She portrayed her paying and condemned the network for its inhumane gesture, which only worsened the victims’ pain by sharing what she said was tearing her apart.
In one of her TikTok videos posted last year, she wrote, “You think you can hurt me? Hulu just released a documentary on how my little sister was brutally murdered without our family’s consent, so now we get to relive the worst day of our lives. The video got more than 20 million views.
The effects of the tragedy are still fresh in the hearts of the loved ones, and making them relive those experiences is devastating. In June 2022, Change.org filed a public petition to have the documentary pulled down completely to save Brooke’s family from further agony.
Herman Jr’s Hope for a Second Chances and Redemption
As indicated in his letter to the Miami Times, Herman Jr. feels guilty and regrets killing his friend Brooke Preston. But he expressed his desire for a second chance. Herman was represented by the Palm Beach County Public Defender’s office in his trial. In a motion seeking a retrial, Herman pointed out that his legal counsel mistakenly categorized sleepwalking as a mental illness and advised him to seek an insanity defense.
In his motion, Herman argued that if his counsel had conducted a thorough investigation, he would have learned that sleepwalking is raised under the automatism legal defense. Automatism refers to the bodily movements that are unconsciously controlled, such as breaking or sleepwalking. The court records show that the motion was filed pro se-rhus. He was representing himself for the retrial.
In the motion, Herman requested the Court to clear the conviction, grant a new evidentiary hearing, or grant any other relief that the Court would find just and proper. Nonetheless, his requests were not granted as The State Attorney’s Office had deemed Herman’s actions deliberate.
The conviction was upheld by the Fourth District Court of Appeal in April 2021 on the basis that there was insufficient evidence to support Herman’s claim. Furthermore, the Court of Appeal argued that the trial court made a mistake in accepting the expert testimony of a state witness about sexually motivated homicide and rejecting his request for a special jury instruction.