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The "Son of Sam" Trial: 1978

Insanity Issue Arises, Cases Consolidated, Case Inspires New Law, Suggestions For Further Reading

Defendant: David R. Berkowitz
Crimes Charged: Second-degree murder, attempted murder, and assault
Chief Defense Lawyers: Ira Jultak and Leon Stern
Chief Prosecutors: Eugene Gold, Mario Merola, and John Santucci
Judges: Joseph R. Corso, William Kapelman, and Nicholas Tsoucalas
Place: New York, New York
Date of Trial: May 8, 1978
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: Six25-years-to-life terms, with additional 15-and 25-year terms for assault and attempted murder

SIGNIFICANCE: While there was never any question that David Berkowitz committed the crimes with which he was charged, his case fueled debate over the difficulty of determining the sanity of defendants and the culpability of the mentally ill. He also inspired a state law preventing criminals from profiting from books or films about their crimes. The "Son of Sam Law" was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1991.

From October 1976 to August 1977, fear spread across New York City whenever night fell. Six young people were killed and seven more were wounded by an unknown gunman who seemed to be hunting young women. Hundreds of detectives were assigned to find "the. 44 caliber killer," so-called because of the unusually large handgun bullets he used. When police found a bizarre note at the scene of a double murder New Yorkers came to know the killer by his own nickname, the "Son of Sam."

After the killer mortally wounded 20-year-old Stacy Moskowitz and blinded her date Robert Violante in Brooklyn on July 31, detectives got a lead. They discovered a parking ticket issued to a 24-year-old postal clerk named David Berkowitz for parking alongside a fire hydrant near the crime scene. Police located Berkowitz's car at his Yonkers apartment building and found a duffel bag full of guns behind the front seat. Berkowitz was seized when he came outside, carrying a. 44-caliber revolver in a small paper bag.

Berkowitz's statement to police left no doubt that he was responsible for the attacks. He described unreleased details in the "Son of Sam" letter and claimed that "Sam" was a 6,000-year-old man inhabiting the body of a neighbor, Sam Carr. "Sam" and other Satanic "demons" had ordered Berkowitz to kill by transmitting commands through the Carr family's Labrador Retriever.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980