By: Kayla Caldwell
A 911 call is made. It’s Randy Herman phoning from Haverhill Park in Florida to report a murder. When pressed, he finally says, “Just send the police. It was me. I’m sorry,” before hanging up. Herman claims, “I know it was me, but I don’t remember anything that just happened,” and cried while he was interviewed by police.
DEAD ASLEEP, directed by Skye Borgman of Abducted in Plain Sight, covers a tricky true crime case. “Something was a little bit off about this case,” said Joe Walsh, the asst. public defender assigned to Herman’s case. None of it made sense. Herman was a “meek” guy, described as being “well mannered, very respectful,” and yet here he was, turning himself into the police, after murdering his best friend and roommate, Brooke Preston. He told police “they’re like my sisters” of Brooke, and Jordan.
Brooke hadn’t just been murdered. The bubbly, young woman, described by friends as “an explosive ball of energy” and “the life of the party,” had been stabbed 25 times. No one understood why anyone would want to hurt Brooke, let alone Randy. “They were like family,” friend Corbin Burger said. Randy had grown up with Brooke and her sister, and they’d been such close friends that he had moved from his hometown of Wyalusing, PA to start a new life with them in Florida. There didn’t seem to be any logical reason for the crime. There’s no history of mental illness. He and his defense didn’t know where to go, so they brought in a trauma specialist.
The sketchy thing that comes next is, when they were about to give up, the specialist asks him, “Have you ever sleepwalked?” Now, all of a sudden we learn about Randy's history of sleepwalking. His sister says he would get up in the middle of the night and scratch windows. His mother said one night he rode his bike to the bar where she worked, and then when she questioned him, he just went back outside, got back on his bike, and rode home. But does that really mean he suffers from violent parasomnia?
I’d like to remind you, this case wasn’t just tragic and upsetting. It was horrifically brutal, to the point that a blood stain analyst says on camera, that it is “one of the more vicious crime scenes that I had to document,” adding, “I still admit that this case really bothers me.”
So there’s no defense for sleepwalking or a diminished capacity defense in Florida, but the DSM does recognize sleepwalking as a mental disease. So the defense leans into that, using the fact that Randy was crying and clearly remorseful, and turned himself in, to show that this wasn’t planned. The murder weapon was left in the bathroom, covered in blood, as well as Randy's fingertips. So that’s another major thing to show that this wasn’t a pre-planned, thought-out event.
However, the prosecution says that Randy was in love with Brooke, which was seemingly confirmed by their friends, like Burger. And true crime fans know that sometimes men react violently when rebuffed. Texts from the day before the murder show that Brooke had reached out to another friend to complain about Randy’s “bizarre” drunken behavior, which at one point included him standing naked in her bedroom closet. Also, the prosecution notes how violent the crime was, which often points to a crime of passion.
Brooke was also wrapped in a quilt after she was stabbed, which could either be because Randy felt guilty and wanted to preserve her dignity, or simply that it made it easier for him to move the body. The crime also happened just as Brooke had come back to Florida to pack her things, so she could drive to Buffalo, and move in with her boyfriend. To make matters even more confusing, as the documentary goes on, we learn that Randy’s father was accused of killing his girlfriend, but wasn’t able to be tried for it, because he completed suicide. His sister said that Randy ending up being the one who had to go to his father’s house and clean up the bloody mess from the crime.
Also, it was not a quick murder. Brooke had clearly fought for her life, so it makes one wonder, would none of that have woken Randy up? His hand was pretty injured. But a specialist claims that sleepwalkers have a high threshold for pain, and therefore, Randy would not have been deterred until his brain was satisfied the risk was gone. It’s also important to note that Brooke and Randy were not really sleeping, at least not in any kind of regular sleep schedule. They were staying up all night partying. They were drinking from breakfast until the early morning hours.
The day of the murder, Brooke was out to breakfast with a friend, but Herman asked her to meet up so he could give her a gift for her boyfriend. So she stops by for that after breakfast, and Randy says the last thing he remembered was laying back down to sleep. Per the timeline presented, that means Randy only had about five minutes to fall back into a deep enough sleep that he could end up sleepwalking. Next thing you know, he comes to standing above Brooke’s murdered body, covered in blood. There’d never been a sleepwalking case in Florida before. Could this really have been a case of sleepwalking? It’s not unheard of. It's hard to forget the case of Kenneth Parks, who was acquitted of murdering his mother-in-law, claiming he was sleepwalking when he drove the 15 miles to her house, and then hit her with an iron bar, and stabbed her.
The documentary breaks Randy's case down to three options. One, Randy is lying. He did this. He remembers everything, and he’s lying about it. Two, which is the one posed by his defense, is that he experienced a parasomnia, and the result of that was that he had no consciousness and has no recollection of having done it. Finally, the third option, which is that Randy may have done this in an act of rage, triggered by the traumatic experience of rejection, and so he has either dissociated from it, or can’t allow himself to own what he actually does remember about it.
If your’e hoping for a big Perry Mason (or Legally Blonde!) moment, there sadly is no real answer. We’ll never know if Randy was sleepwalking, or if he killed his best friend in a fit of jealous rage, and then just lied about it. Personally, I feel like it’s less of a stretch to buy the latter than the former - and the jurors seemed to agree. Randy was found guilty of first-degree murder as charged in the indictment, because jurors thought there wasn’t enough time for him to be in a deep enough sleep to cause sleepwalking. The timeline just didn't make sense. The judge sentenced him to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, and though he tried to appeal the decision on April 14, 2021, he was denied.
DEAD ASLEEP is a very intriguing documentary - one might say another slam dunk for Borgman. The case itself lives in that murky grey area that allows for plenty of speculation and skepticism. The film is very dynamic, switching between first-person interviews, old photos, social media posts, graphics, and re-enactments made via cool miniatures. It’s only an hour and 26 minutes long, so plenty of time to muddle your brain with the myriad opinions, but not long enough that you grow weary of the topic. Borgman understands how to captivate an audience.
Herman is a calm and collected interviewee, and seems earnest enough. His is the kind of case you can discuss with a group of friends, and debate whether or not he is being sincere. Whether or not you believe in the “sleepwalking defense,” DEAD ASLEEP is a thoroughly interesting and unbiased view of both sides in this bizarre and yet memorable case.
DEAD ASLEEP is streaming on Hulu starting today.