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Queens Chronicle

35th Anniversary Edition: News Makers (1978) Berkowitz gets 25 to life for each killing

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Posted: Wednesday, November 13, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 2:19 pm, Thu Nov 14, 2013.

Just how crazy was David Berkowitz, the .44 Caliber Killer who terrorized Queens and the rest of the city for more than a year beginning in late July 1976? Crazy enough that for months before the man who killed six and wounded seven was caught, he taunted the police and the press with letters filled with insane rants such as “I am the ‘Son of Sam.’ Sam loves to drink blood. ‘Go out and kill,’ commands father Sam. ... Police, let me haunt you with these words — I’ll be back! I’ll be back! To be interpreted as — bang, bang, bang, bang.”

Berkowitz favored killing young women, often as they sat in cars with friends or boyfriends. Two of the people he murdered, Christine Freund and Virginia Voskerichian, were killed in Queens, while another young woman here was rendered a paraplegic and other victims suffered various wounds in his attacks.

Berkowitz, who was caught in August 1977 and went on trial in May 1978, claimed that he was being given commands to kill by his neighbor Sam’s dog, one of a number of “devil dogs” running around the city. Whether he was truly insane or was making it up was an issue at his trial — unlike the fact he had committed the murders, which he freely admitted.

But Berkowitz’s psychological troubles began long before his killing spree, according to analyses including a study done for Radford University’s Department of Psychology.

Given up for adoption, he experienced repeated childhood incidents that could have damaged his mind, including being bathed in a beach club shower by his mother at age 5 while other nude women were present, getting hit by a car and suffering head injuries, and seeing several people die in vehicular accidents of one kind or another.

By age 12 he had begun to set what would turn out to be more than 1,400 fires, and at 13 he began to torture and kill animals. He had trouble at school but did graduate, and then joined the Army. There he used drugs including marijuana and LSD.

In 1975, when he was 22, Berkowitz tried to kill two women with a knife, though both escaped. That same year he was working as a security guard at Kennedy Airport.

The next year the killings began.

A psychiatric report delivered to the three judges overseeing his trial said that while Berkowitz understood the charges against him, he was so emotionally dead that he could not assist in his own defense. Another psychiatrist, however, determined that the defendant was faking it and knew exactly what he was doing.

Berkowitz pleaded guilty. On the day he was to be sentenced, he once screamed, “I’d kill them all again,” and the judges delayed his sentencing. On June 12, 1978, he finally was given 25 years to life for each of the six homicides.

Since 1987 he has declared himself a born-again Christian and said he was sorry for crimes. He has fought against being considered for parole, saying prison is where he belongs.

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