Serial Killers, Book Deals, and Legal Research

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Shannon Sabo

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the arrest of serial killer David Berkowitz, more famously known as “Son of Sam” or the “.44 caliber killer.” In addition to wreaking havoc in New York City by killing six people and wounding seven others, Berkowitz’s notoriety led to the creation of and subsequent controversy surrounding “Son of Sam laws.” Research these laws, related constitutional issues, and Supreme Court cases on this killer topic in HeinOnline.

Berkowitz’s Crimes and Capture

  • On July 29, 1976 Berkowitz shot two teenage women: Donna Lauria and Jody Valenti. Valenti survived, but Lauria was killed.
  • In October of that same year, he shot a couple sitting in a parked car. Both Carl Denaro and Rosemary Keenan survived, but Denaro’s skull was severely damaged.
  • A month later, Berkowitz attacked and shot two teenage girls, Donna DeMasi and Joanne Lomino, while they walked home. Lomino was rendered a paraplegic.
  • In January of 1977, he shot Christine Freund in the head while she was sitting in a car with her fiance, John Diel. Freund died of her injuries.
  • In March, Berkowitz killed college student Virginia Voskerichian as she returned home from classes.
  • The next month, he killed a couple sitting in their parked car: Valentina Suriani and Alexander Esau.
  • In June of 1977, he shot Sal Lupo and Judy Placido, both of whom survived.
  • Berkowitz’s final attack occurred in July of 1977. He shot Stacy Moskowitz and Robert Violante in Brooklyn. Moskowitz later died of her injuries and Violante lost most of his vision.

Throughout the course of his crimes, Berkowitz mocked police with letters left near victims’ bodies, calling himself “Son of Sam” for the first time in a letter left at the scene of the Suriani/Esau murders. Due to the violent nature of the crimes and these taunting letters, media coverage was extensive, and Berkowitz seemed to enjoy the spotlight.

He was captured less than a month after his final attack on Stacy Moskowitz and Robert Violante after a witness reported seeing a suspicious man at the scene of that crime with a parking ticket on his windshield. Police were able to track down all cars ticketed in that time frame, eventually leading to the arrest of David Berkowitz.

Son of Sam Laws

Due to Berkowitz’s notoriety, lawmakers were concerned that publishers or filmmakers would pay large sums of money for the rights to his story. To prevent him and other convicted criminals from profiting from their crimes, the New York legislature was the first to enact a Son of Sam law, which required anyone contracting with a convicted criminal to turn the criminal’s proceeds to the Crime Victims Compensation Board. Other states followed suit, and the federal government eventually passed the Victims of Crime Act of 1984. In addition to the full text of 98 Stat. 2170 and its codified version at 18 U.S.C. 3681, HeinOnline’s U.S. Federal Legislative History Library contains the Indexed Legislative History of the Victims of Crime Act of 1984.

Son of Sam legislation encountered problems with the First Amendment. In the 1991 case Simon and Schuster, Inc. v. Members of New York State Crime Victims Board, the Court recognized “a compelling interest in compensating victims from the fruits of the crime, but little if any interest in limiting such compensation to the proceeds of the wrongdoer’s speech about the crime.” The full text of this case is available in the U.S. Supreme Court Library  at 502 U.S. 105.

The holding in this case was limited to New York’s law, but could have broader implications of the constitutionality of similar statutes. New York and other states still have laws to prevent convicted felons from capitalizing on their crimes, but the laws are more careful to avoid violating First Amendment rights.

To find scholarly articles on this topic, search the Law Journal Library for (“Son of Sam law”~10 OR “Son of Sam laws”~10) AND “First Amendment” and sort by Volume Date (Oldest First). More than 450 results reflect the depth of legal scholarship on this topic, with articles dating back to the 1970s. Perform a more general search for the terms “Son of Sam” AND Berkowitz to learn more about the killer and his crimes. Read articles from 1977, written as Berkowitz’s trial was underway, as well as this June 2017 article which relates Son of Sam laws to current issues.

Use More Like This, a new feature which uses machine learning and natural language processing tools to locate similar articles. From within an article, click the More Like This button for a list of articles which have similar “interesting words” as the current article. Try this with Son of Sam Laws: Killing Free Speech or Promoting Killer Profits? by Orly Nosrati.

Note the list of “interesting words” on the left side of the page. Adjust the boost factor or add a new search term to change the scope of the displayed articles.

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