New York’s “Son of Sam” Law, was enacted in 1977 in response to the many monetary offers to David Berkowitz, known as the “Son of Sam” killer, for his story. The law was intended to divert any payments or profits to the victims of any criminal who received profits from a crime. The “Son of Sam” Law was last amended in 2001, when its scope was broadened significantly.
The latest application of the law involves an incredibly tragic crime. In 2008, New York mother Leatrice Brewer killed her three young children. Brewer admitted to drowning her children in the bathtub, but said she killed the children, ages one, five, and six, to save them from a voodoo curse. Brewer pleaded not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect.
Brewer is currently incarcerated in a secure psychiatric hospital. She is back in the news because of her attempt to collect from her children’s $350,000 estate. The estate is made up of settlement funds from wrongful death lawsuits filed against the county by the fathers of the murdered children. Because Brewer was technically found not responsible for the deaths of her children, there was speculation that the “Son of Sam” law may not bar collection.
After a November 6th hearing on the matter, a judge ruled that Brewer is not entitled to any portion of the estate. The judge decided that while Brewer was not criminally responsible for her children’s deaths, she was still morally responsible. This new rule means that a person found not responsible for a crime because of mental disease or defect can not enjoy financial gain if they are able to recognize their conduct as morally wrong.
Contributed by MH Phoenix Estate Planning Attorney, Andrea Claus.
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