Revival leader touts 'Son of Sam' conversion

The Pensacola News Journal/November 18, 1997
By John W. Allman

Pensacola -- The latest name on the tally of saved souls is David Berkowitz, says Steve Hill.

Berkowitz is also known as "Son of Sam," the killer whose year-long spree left six people dead and eight wounded in New York City.

He is in prison for life with no chance of parole. Maybe.

Berkowitz, who claims to have converted to Christ in 1987, will get his first parole hearing in the year 2002 five years from now and Hill, who will be featured on a video touting Berkowitz's conversion, says the former killer is a changed man.

Hill hopes to enlighten people to Berkowitz's salvation. The videotape will be sold at the Pensacola Brownsville Revival and marketed on national television. It should be available in time for Christmas.

"They felt like I would be the one to bridge the gap between David Berkowitz and the youth of America," said Hill, who was chosen for the project by his long-time friend, Don Wilkerson, executive director of the international division of Teen Challenge, a Christian-based drug treatment program.

"I'm coming on the video as a former typical kid who got messed up."

Hill said he does not know whether Berkowitz should be paroled, but he does believe that, if released, Berkowitz would not kill again.

"He's grown up. He's a man. He did those things when he was confused," Hill said.

"I don't know what I would feel like if it was my child who had been killed," Hill said.

Neysa Moskowitz does.

Her daughter, Stacy, was in a parked car in Brooklyn, cuddling with her boyfriend, on July 31, 1977, when Berkowitz shot and killed her. She was his last victim.

"I do not think he belongs out of prison. If he could be so easily led into killing people, then he should not be let out amongst normal people," said Moskowitz, 64.

"He took something very precious and very dear to me. She had just turned 20. She was beautiful. It ruined my other daughter for 10 years. She's only starting now and she's 36 to make a life for herself. He destroyed everyone in my family."

Moskowitz said Hill should be stopped before he can convince anyone that Berkowitz is anything other than a killer.

'Son of Hope'

Hill has never met Berkowitz in person.

He has never traveled to Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, N.Y., where Berkowitz has been confined since Dec. 4, 1987.

But Hill said he believes Berkowitz when the inmate says he is saved.

According to Berkowitz, he received Christ one night in prison as he was kneeling on the floor.

"When I finished talking to God, I got up. My mind seemed to flood with a sense of peace," Berkowitz wrote. "I knew from that moment that Jesus Christ heard me. I sensed in my heart that I was forgiven and that I was now free."

The man who told police that he was driven to commit murder by a 6,000-year-old demon whose voice he heard through his neighbor's dog, Sam, now wants to be known as the "Son of Hope."

He sends pamphlets to churches around the world, and ministers to other inmates. Since March 24, 1997, he has worked as a clerk/typist in the prison chaplain's office at Sullivan, earning 21 cents an hour.

Berkowitz has had just one disciplinary violation in the nine years since he arrived at Sullivan, said Mike Houston, assistant director of public information for the New York state Department of Correctional Services in Albany.

On Dec. 26, 1989, he was cited for refusing a direct order and was confined to his cell for 15 days, 23 hours a day, except for a mandatory one-hour daily recreational period. He also lost his phone and commissary privileges for 15 days.

Is it possible that he might one day be released?

Tom Grant, assistant to the chairman of the state Parole Board, said the board has the power to release violent offenders.

According to Grant, the board looks at a number of factors: The nature of the crime, letters from victims, the inmate's behavior in prison, the inmate's job prospects and the probability that the inmate will not be a risk to the community.

New York Gov. George Pataki is asking the Legislature to pass a bill to prevent any violent criminal from receiving parole for any reason, but Grant said that if the bill becomes law, it would apply only to newly sentenced criminals, not to Berkowitz because he is already serving his sentence.

The sin problem

Steve Hill and David Berkowitz have common ground.

Both are in their early 40s; Hill is 43, Berkowitz is 44.

Both have been arrested.

Both say they have found Jesus Christ.

Hill says that common ground allows him to bridge the gap between Berkowitz and the youth of America, who are struggling to overcome sin.

"David's problem was sin," he said. "The devil lied to David Berkowitz."

On the Berkowitz video, Hill says, he gives an altar call, asking people to cast off their sins and be saved.

Moskowitz isn't buying the story that Berkowitz has repented.

"He wants to save everybody? He could have saved my daughter," she said. "It's a crock of garbage. I don't believe it."

Moskowitz said she moved several years ago from New York to Miami, but she does not stop mourning.

And she does not forget.

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