The mentally disturbed patient who gunned down Aventura surgeon Dr. Bradley Silverman in 1999 has died before ever facing a jury for the murder.
Robert Herndon, whose trial was delayed time and again for 16 years because of his faltering health, died earlier this month of liver failure at a state-contracted hospice facility in Key Largo. He was 62.
For the family of Silverman, who spearheaded cancer treatment at Aventura Hospital, the death concluded a prolonged, if ultimately fruitless, quest for justice. But the years of hearings had taken their toll on Silverman’s aging parents, who were worried that their son’s killer may outlive them.
“It’s definitely a relief. My fear was always that he would walk the streets, that he would get out,” said Marilyn Silverman, Bradley’s mother, adding: “He had a trial. God was his judge.”
Said Susan Dannelly, the former Miami-Dade prosecutor who spearheaded the case for years: “I hope the Silverman family can find some peace finally after all these years.”
Silverman, 41, was gunned down at his office next to Aventura Hospital in January 1999, a sudden and terrible end to a rising medical career. Just before his death, Silverman had been elected as Aventura Hospital's chief of staff, and he had helped found Aventura’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“He made the hospital, he really did,” Dr. Michael Storch, a plastic surgeon and Silverman’s best friend, told the Miami Herald in a story on the one-decade anniversary of the shooting.
The death shook South Florida’s medical community, raised questions about legal loopholes that allowed the mentally ill to purchase firearms and forever altered the fabric of the Silverman family.
The slaying did push Bradley’s sister, Robin Silverman, a San Francisco clinical psychologist, to work with mentally ill patients in prison.
“I think about him every single day,” she said of her brother. “His being gone from this earth created a huge vacuum for me that never goes away.”
Bradley Silverman frequently treated patients with few resources. One of them was Herndon, whose nurse wife had asked the doctor to remove an abscess from under her husband’s arm.
The diminutive Miami Shores handyman suffered from the intestine-wrenching Crohn’s Disease and also had a long history of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Despite warnings about the procedure’s side effects, Herndon — his personal life unraveling and his health deteriorating — grew increasingly fixated on Silverman after losing partial movement in his arm.
On Jan. 11, 1999, after some exchanged words, Herndon followed Silverman into the surgeon's fourth-floor office at Biscayne Arts Medical Plaza, 21110 Biscayne Blvd. Herndon shot him to death at point-blank range.
Within days, Aventura police detectives arrested Herndon in New Port Richey on a charge of first-degree murder.
There was never any question that Herndon pulled the trigger. But his longtime defense attorneys insisted that Herndon’s mind was so scrambled that he did not know right from wrong when he targeted Silverman.
“His was a classic insanity case,” said defense lawyer Ed O’Donnell.
Prosecutors, for many years, sought the death penalty. They always believed Herndon knew exactly what he was doing when he stalked and killed the doctor.
“The actions of the defendant were deliberate and very goal-oriented,” Dannelly told the Herald in 2009. “As a result, many people are now suffering.”
But getting Herndon to trial proved an uphill battle.
He at first refused to cooperate with the psychiatrists sent to evaluate him. He believed, for a time, that one of his lawyers was laundering money for the Mafia. At one point, after a court hearing, he pounced on O'Donnell, slightly injuring the attorney's finger.
Time and again, judges over the years deemed Herndon to be “incompetent,” leading to extended stays at state-run or state-contracted hospitals to restore his ability to understand a trial.
His trial, finally, had been set for January. But in August, his health took a turn for the worse. He was hospitalized and soon put in hospice.
“I would say his last 10 to 12 years in custody were fraught with pain, discomfort, the inability to eat any real food,” said his second attorney, Bruce Fleisher. “He was in a wheelchair. He was just a mess.”