The “Son of Sam” Murder Trial

People v. Berkowitz, 409 N.Y.S.2d 706 (App. Div. 1977)

On July 29, 1976, in the Pelham Bay area of the Bronx, Donna Lauria and Jody Valenti were shot inside their car after driving home from a nightclub. The attack began a year of terror that gripped New York City and left six people dead and seven wounded. “I am the ‘Son of Sam,’” wrote the killer. He left a letter for police at his sixth crime scene in April 1977, and the name leaked to the media. On July 31, 1977, Stacy Moskowitz and Robert Violante were gunned down in Brooklyn. This time, a woman who was walking her dog nearby saw a yellow Ford Galaxie getting a parking ticket. Police traced the car to David Richard Berkowitz and arrested him on August 10. His first words to the officers were, “Well, you got me.”

Berkowitz claimed that his neighbor, Sam Carr, owned a black Labrador retriever which was possessed by a bloodthirsty demon, and that this demon commanded Berkowitz to kill. Three psychiatrists found Berkowitz mentally unfit to stand trial, but a fourth offered the dissenting opinion that he was sane. The Son of Sam case became a prominent example in the controversy surrounding the insanity defense. Berkowitz confessed and pled guilty, ordering his lawyers not to appeal a sentence of 365 years in prison without possibility of parole.

Dengrove first sketched Berkowitz at his arraignment. “[T]he one thing that struck me was his eyes. They didn’t seem to focus on anything . . . and he had an ever-so-slight smile.” Her sketches of Berkowitz were distributed worldwide by the Associated Press and NBC News, earning Dengrove an Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Craft.