Son of Sam loophole may help killer get kids' cash

Published on NewsOK Modified: October 13, 2013 at 1:08 pm •  Published: October 13, 2013
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MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) — It's the hallmark of New York's Son of Sam law and others like it across the nation — convicted criminals should not be able to profit from their crimes.

But legal experts say the case of a Long Island mother who drowned her three children in a bathtub and is now seeking to cash in could succeed because of a loophole. Since Leatrice Brewer was never convicted — instead found not guilty by reason of mental disease — legal experts say she could make a plausible case to receive some of her children's $350,000 estate.

"The Brewer case is a novel circumstance," said George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley. "The facts do seem to place her outside the scope of the law, although that does not mean there could not be other barriers to her recovering from the estate of her children."

Brewer, 33, slashed her daughter's throat before drowning her and two younger brothers in 2008, believing she was saving them from the deadly effects of voodoo. Hours after the killings, she survived two suicide attempts — swallowing a concoction of home cleaning fluids and later jumping out a second-story window.

She was found not guilty because of mental disease or defect in the deaths of the children, ages 1, 5 and 6, and was committed to a state psychiatric hospital.

A hearing before Nassau County Surrogate Court Judge Edward McCarty next month will determine if Brewer is entitled to a share of the proceeds from two lawsuits the children's fathers settled with the county; they claimed social workers failed to properly monitor the woman and children.

Caseworkers visited Brewer's apartment two days before the killings and found no one home but neglected to schedule an immediate follow-up visit. Two social workers were later suspended.

"As a human being, I am outraged and disgusted by this," said attorney Thomas Foley, who represents the father of the two slain boys. "As an attorney, I have some level of understanding of why we have to go through this charade, but it is difficult to forget we are here because of the actions of a crazy person who killed her kids."

Kenneth Weinstein, a court-appointed attorney representing any possible unknown heirs who may surface, was just as blunt: "It would stand the law on its ear if she were to receive any proceeds from her own heinous, felonious conduct."

New York was the first state to enact a Son of Sam law in the 1970s following the capture of notorious serial killer David Berkowitz. Its intent was to bar Berkowitz and other criminals from profiting from their crimes through the commercial exploitation of their stories.

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