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New York's Revised "Son of Sam" Law Leads to $100 Million Verdict Against Cop Killer

New York's Revised "Son of Sam" Law Leads to $100 Million Verdict Against Cop Killer

by Lonnie Burton

The 2001 revisions to New York's so-called "Son of Sam" law, which now allows crime victims to sue their perpetrators and confiscate their money anytime they receive in excess of $10,000, has led to a $100 million jury verdict against a prisoner who had shot and killed a New York City police officer in 1988. The verdict also led to the immediate confiscation of a court award that the prisoner himself received after successfully suing that state of New York.

Previously, the "Son of Sam" law only applied to monies that prisoners received from book or movie deals that resulted from their crimes. Now, not only are crime victims authorized to sue for any funds the prisoner receives in excess of $10,000, but the statute of limitations on such suits does not even start until the victim is notified by the New York State Crime Victims Board (CVB) that the prisoner has received such funds. [We reported on the new "Son of Sam" law in the March 2002 edition of PLN .]

David McClary was convicted of shooting and killing NYPD rookie officer Edward Byrne in 1988, and sentenced in June 1989 to 25 years to life. While in prison, McClary was placed in
Administrative Segregation for nearly five years.

McClary then sued the state of New York alleging due process violations regarding his ad-seg placement, because, according to attorney Anna Marie Richmond of Buffalo, who represented McClary in his civil case, he was not given notice of why he was placed in segregation.

In February 1999 a Rochester, N.Y., jury awarded him $600,000. That sum was later reduced to $237,500. The verdict was upheld by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. See: McClary v. Kelly , 237 F.3d 185 (2nd Cir. 2001). [This case was also reported by PLN in the April 2002 issue.]

Just after the 2nd Circuit's affirmation of the judgment in June 2001, the New York legislature passed the revisions to the "Son of Sam" law. The law gives the Crime Victims Board the right to seize a prisoner's funds to allow the crime victim time to sue before the money can be spent, and it requires the CVB to notify the victims of the existence of such funds.

When the state comptroller notified the Crime Victims Board in August 2001 of its intent to pay McClary his judgment, the Board obtained an order to freeze the money and promptly notified the Byrne family of their right to sue, which they did.

On February 15, 2002, a Mineola, NY, jury returned a $100 million verdict against McClary for killing Byrne. See: Byrne v. McClary , No. 12614/01 (Nassau Co. N.Y., Sup. Ct.). The verdict allows the Byrne family to seize McClary's $237,500 civil award. In addition to the $100 million punitive damage award, the Byrne verdict included $361,000 in compensatory damages and $11,000 to cover the cost of Byrne's funeral.

McClary's attorney on the Byrne case, solo practitioner Gregory S. Watts of Brooklyn, said that McClary will appeal the verdict on the grounds that the Son of Sam law revisions were unconstitutional and that the Byrnes' lawsuit should have been barred by the state's 2-year statute of limitations on wrongful death actions. McClary is also challenging the law as specifically framed to impair McClary's right to receive his judgment.

Readers should note that the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals held in Hawkins v. Fennel that states cannot seize § 1983 judgments.

See: New York Crime Victims Board v. McClary , No. 5138-01 (Albany Co., N.Y., Sup. Ct.).

Source: The National Law Journal

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Related legal case

Byrne v. McClary