The Tragic Murder Of Brooke Preston Explained

In 2017, 21-year-old Brooke Preston was stabbed to death by her roommate and childhood friend, Randy Herman Jr., in their West Palm Beach, Florida home (via Palm Beach Post). This much is agreed by everyone, including Herman, who called 911 and confessed to the killing shortly after it was committed. What's debatable was his unlikely defense in the death: that he stabbed his friend while sleepwalking during a bad hangover.

​​"The next thing [I know], I'm standing over top of her and I have a knife in my hand, covered in blood," Herman said in his 2019 testimony, describing the moments in which he claims he woke up. "I was confused. Scared. Didn't know what to do. Didn't know what happened."

Though Herman was convicted for Preston's murder in 2019 and is currently serving a life sentence in prison, the Hulu documentary "Dead Asleep" explores Herman's defense further (via Distractify). What was Herman and Preston's relationship really like? Is it actually possible to stab someone 25 times while sleepwalking? And did Herman have a secret motive in Preston's death?

The Sleepwalking Murder

Herman's story goes like this: Preston was moving out of their house to live with her boyfriend in New York, and had only a few personal items remaining in the Florida house, according to Miami New Times. She was in West Palm Beach to pick up those belongings and say goodbye to her friends. Her visit was treated as a last hurrah, with Herman — who reportedly had some issues with drinking, given the two DUIs on his record — drinking more than 30 beers in a single day. Annoyed by Herman's intoxication, Preston stayed with a different mutual friend that night.

The next morning, a badly hungover Herman helped Preston pack one final item: a shirt memorializing a friend of theirs who had died in a drunken accident. They hugged goodbye, and Herman said he watched Preston leave his room as he fell back asleep. He claimed the next time he was awake, he was standing over Preston's body, with a knife in his hand.

Herman adopted an unusual defense

When police arrived at the park where the 911 call came from, they found Herman standing near a pavilion at Haverhill Park near Palm Beach. There, first responders found Herman covered with blood, and noted a wound between his thumb and index finger on his left hand. When police picked up Herman at the park. they returned to the house he shared with Preston where they discovered a bloody crimes scene as well as the alleged murder weapon, later described as a "hunting-style knife." According to The Daily Beast, a police report later attributed Herman's hand injury to slipping and cutting himself on the knife. Preston's body was under a blanket, and investigators noticed apparent defensive wounds on her hand. 

Once the case went to trial, Herman's defense argued while the murder had been committed by Herman, it had taken place while he was sleepwalking. It's not common, but murders committed by sleepwalkers can happen, and according to The Palm Beach Post, there are certain criteria that a murder needs to meet for it to be attributed to sleepwalking. These include traits in the case that can include an attacker with a history of sleepwalking, no apparent motive, and a victim who was well-loved by the attacker. Herman's case fits most of these criteria.

The sleep walking defense was rejected

Though Herman was clear that he did not remember what happened, the sleepwalking explanation was apparently first brought up by his mother, who told detectives that her son had significant sleepwalking episodes, including one time when he rode his bike to her workplace in his sleep, according to the Miami New Times.

In 2019, a 12-person jury rejected Herman's sleepwalking explanation for the death (via Palm Beach Post). Prosecutors, grasping for an explanation for Preston's death, painted the killing as motivated by unrequited feelings — Herman, while drunk and incoherent, had curled up naked in Preston's closet the night before, and a friend of his told The Daily Beast that he believed Herman was "crushing" on Preston. Moreover, prosecutors found the sleepwalking explanation improbable. "This is skin, this is bone, this is muscle (he's stabbing)," said Assistant State Attorney Reid Scott in his closing arguments. "You're not going to sleepwalk through that."

Herman, however, still maintains that he has no memory of Preston's death. In a letter to the Miami New Times, he tried to make sense of the conflicted feelings he is still working through as he serves out a life sentence. "I believe what happened in my case could have been the culmination of tremendous stress, depression, trauma, and alcohol that essentially resulted in some unexplainable mental breakdown," he 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."