Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

David Berkowitz: The Son of Sam

David in Jail

David Berkowitz's, 2002 prison photo I.D.
David Berkowitz's, 2002 prison photo I.D.

On July 9, 2002, David Berkowitz's first parole hearing was conducted at the place of Berkowitz's incarceration, Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, N.Y.  David Berkowitz, 49, attended this hearing, but had chosen not to attend the hearing that had been scheduled a month earlier. Commissioner Irene Platt asked him why he didn't attend in June, but did in July.

"I had a lot of anxiety," Berkowitz answered, "and I thought it would be best for the families that I not come at all and I — after a lot of soul searching and a lot of praying I just decided it would be best to just come and face you and apologize. I'm not seeking parole. I don't feel that I deserve parole."

Commissioner Platt asked him why he felt that he didn't deserve parole.

Berkowitz responded, "Well, for the crimes that were committed and people that are suffering today because of my actions. I know they have a lot of pain and hurt that will probably never go away... I wish that I can go back and change the past. I can't, so I have to — I came to terms with this and realize that I'm here in prison."

Commissioner Platt stated that she wanted to continue with the hearing, unless he had an objection.

Berkowitz had mixed feelings. He was very concerned about the media, "I was hoping that after this was over with, after the 25-year mark and the media says all that they can possibly say, that everybody, myself, my family, the victims' families can all get on with their lives."

Commissioner Platt asked him what "attracted you to their whereabouts and your need to kill them?"

Berkowitz replied, "Ma'am, I'm sorry. I don't know. I don't understand what happened... It was a nightmare. I was tormented in my mind and in my spirit. My life was out of control at that time and I have nothing but regret for what happened."

"What was this torment," she probed.

"It was just my mind was not focused right. I thought I was a soldier for the devil and all kinds of crazy things... I had things like the satanic bible that I was reading. I just got stupid ideas out of it. I'm not pushing the blame on anything. I take full responsibility, but I just — at the time things got twisted."

At the end of the short hearing, Commissioner Platt suggested that Berkowitz had not developed much of an understanding of the motivations of his crimes. Berkowitz answered, "Ma'am, in all honesty I really haven't. I still struggle with coming to grips with the things of the past. There are still issues that I have to deal with. I'm not there yet."

Not surprisingly, parole was formally denied. Although the panel recognized his good behavior, his activities in helping other inmates and his role as a chaplain's clerk, his completion of a two-year degree from the state university, and his successful completion of other prison rehabilitation programs, and his expression of remorse for his crimes, "the extraordinary pain, suffering and anger that you have inflicted on the families and the community at large continues. Discretionary release at this time would deprecate the seriousness of these atrocious crimes and diminish respect for the law."

Berkowitz's first years in prison were filled with conflict. He was a disciplinary problem. However, after his conversion to Christianity, his attitude changed dramatically and the disciplinary problems went away. Many people are skeptical of the dramatic embrace of religion, but in the final analysis it really doesn't matter whether people believe Berkowitz or not. Berkowitz is smart enough to understand that he is never getting out of prison and has learned to adjust to the realities of that life.

Is his new Christian persona really a hoax to deceive the parole board into someday granting him parole? I don't think so because he knows that parole is beyond his reach. His religious beliefs have provided him a spiritually comforting and socially-acceptable lifestyle in an environment where few comforts are normally found. While Berkowitz was not technically insane when he committed murder, he was a very troubled and emotionally unstable personality. Now that he is middle aged, off the hallucinogenic drugs and, possibly, taking more therapeutic medications for his mental state, he is trying to overcome the freakish image that he had created for himself as a young man.

Berkowitz is a long way from normal and always has been. It appears as though he understands this fact and is trying to do the best he can to straighten himself out. He has the rest of his life to work on it — in prison, where, he realizes, that he definitely belongs.