From July 1976 to July 1977, a series of shootings in New York City left six people dead and seven wounded. As police conducted a manhunt across the terrorized city, the serial killer began leaving them taunting notes at his crime scenes. In one, he called himself the “Son of Sam.”
Law enforcement linked postal employee David Berkowitz, who lived in Yonkers, New York, to the murders in August 1977, thanks to a parking ticket that placed him in the area of his final shooting on July 31, 1977. After his arrest, he told police that demons had directed his killing spree via a neighbor’s barking Labrador.
Instead of going on trial, Berkowitz pleaded guilty to six counts of second-degree murder and seven counts of attempted second-degree murder. In June 1978, he received six 25-years-to-life sentences.
In 2002, after serving 25 years, Berkowitz became eligible for parole. His parole hearings have taken place every two years, with the next one scheduled for May 2024.
Where Berkowitz Has Been Incarcerated
After his arrest, court-appointed psychiatric experts found Berkowitz was suffering from paranoia and delusions, but even so, they deemed him competent to stand trial. A courtroom outburst—during which he yelled, “I’d kill them all again”—delayed his sentencing.
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When Berkowitz’s sentence began, a judge placed him in the custody of New York’s Department of Mental Hygiene. However, the serial killer was moved to state prison within a few months.
In 1979, a fellow inmate at Attica Correctional Facility cut Berkowitz’s throat, nearly killing him. He required more than 50 stitches.
Throughout his incarceration, the New York State Department of Correctional Services has moved Berkowitz to different prisons, a common practice to address security concerns for long-term inmates. Berkowitz spent years at Sullivan Correctional Facility in upstate New York. There, The New York Times reported, he worked as an aide for impaired prisoners.
Berkowitz is currently incarcerated at Shawangunk Correctional Facility, located in New York’s Hudson Valley.
Religion and Berkowitz’s Life in Prison
Berkowitz has stated that in 1987, he found God and became a Christian. He now calls himself “Son of Hope.” Religion has become part of his prison routine. At Shawangunk, he assists the prison chaplain as a clerk, according to a 2020 article in WORLD.
Reverend Tony Loeffler, an ordained minister and musician who runs the prison ministry International Solid Rock, has been friends with Berkowitz for more than two decades.
“I talk with him regularly on the phone, we communicate regularly by email. I visit him personally, and I don’t take it lightly when I say this is a true conversion,” he tells A&E True Crime. “I’ve performed for over a million inmates and I see the real ones and I see the ones who are thinking, well, if I tell people I’m a Christian now, maybe I’ll get a break. And I know the difference between those. David is the real deal.”
Loeffler has distributed numerous copies of a testimonial tract by Berkowitz. He also says Berkowitz “has a good outreach right from his prison cell where he writes blogs and he writes journals.” Berkowitz is able to communicate with the world via a website maintained by outside supporters.
Berkowitz’s Feelings About Parole
In 2002, Berkowitz wrote to the then-governor of New York, George Pataki: “I can give you no good reason why I should be considered for parole. I can, however, give you many reasons why I should not be.
“In all honesty, I believe I deserve to be in prison for the rest of my life. I have, with God’s help, long ago come to terms with my situation and I have accepted my punishment.”
Loeffler concurs that initially Berkowitz didn’t want to pursue parole. “David’s feeling was that he didn’t want to resurrect the pain and suffering that he’s caused so many people.”
Yet now Berkowitz’s thinking has shifted, according to Loeffler.
“He’s good either way, but if the Lord were to give him an opportunity to be released after serving a lot of years, he would be open to that now. That’s really new because for at least 20 years, maybe more, there was no interest in that whatsoever. It’s only been in the latter years, where I think he’s come to grips with some things.”
Could Berkowitz Be Granted Parole?
Dr. Kimora, an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, tells A&E True Crime that parole is unlikely for Berkowitz “because he’s such a high-profile case” and “he doesn’t show enough remorse.”
“The other part that is unique about the Son of Sam is that he really got into the glory of killing people,” says Kimora. “Psychologists, at the time, perceived it that way.
“He liked the attention,” she adds. “He was playing games with people. The parole board doesn’t forget those kinds of things.”
Kimora also notes that Berkowitz, as Son of Sam, continues to be mentioned in songs, cartoons and other media. “When music is created, when cartoons are created, that shows the parole board that Son of Sam is still in the public eye,” she says. “The parole board’s going to look at it from a practical standpoint and say, ‘This guy still has an influence…what’s going to happen if he gets out?'”
Kimora, who is also the education director for treatment services at the Osborne Association, a New York state-based prison, re-entry and family services program, usually aims to offer “a lot of compassion for people and giving people second, third and fourth chances. But I wouldn’t touch this guy. He’s too dangerous. He’s too maladjusted.”
In Kimora’s estimation, “The chance of David Berkowitz getting parole is basically nil.”