Gilgo Beach Serial Killer Documentary Payment Sparks Bill to Bar Suspects’ Families from Profiting Off Crimes

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Asa Ellerup, wearing blue, the estranged wife of Rex Heuermann, attended his Nov. 15 court appearance.

Lawmakers proposed banning suspects’ families from profiting off their crimes amid outrage that the alleged Gilgo Beach serial killer’s estranged wife and kids will reportedly be paid $1 million for a documentary.

Proponents say the legislation would amend the so-called Son of Sam laws that ensured victims’ families can sue for any proceeds that offenders generate. But the attorney for suspect Rex Heuermann’s wife argues that the bill is a publicity stunt.

“It’s a sad day in America when people are willing to trample on the constitution to get press coverage,” said  Bob Macedonio, the Islip Terrace-based attorney for Asa Ellerup, who still lives in the family’s dilapidated Massapequa Park home. “The next thing they will attempt is to control media coverage.”

New York State lawmakers enacted the original Son of Sam law after fears that the 1970s serial killer David Berkowitz may sell the rights to his story or otherwise profit from his notoriety. The law was challenged on First Amendment grounds and revised in 2001 to set up a process for victims families to be notified by the state Office of Victim Services to ensure they can sue their offenders for any proceeds more than $10,000.

“Current law does not include the family or former spouse of a person charged with or convicted of a crime under the notification requirement,” said state Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. (D-Sag Harbor), who is sponsoring the bill introduced by state Sen. Kevin Thomas (D-Hicksville). “This results in media outlets contracting with family, rather than the person charged with or convicted of a crime, to avoid the notification requirements. This loophole deprives victims and their families of compensation they are entitled to under New York law.”

Thomas agreed.

“With the alarming reality of media companies exploiting tragedy for profit, my hope is that victims are given the opportunity to receive the justice and compensation they deserve,” said Thomas. “New York has a long history of blocking people convicted of a crime from benefiting from their illegal activity. My legislation aims to take it a step further to ensure that media deals surrounding a crime are subject to the same transparency and accountability as the perpetrator themselves. No one should be profiting off a crime.”

The proposed amendment came about a month after reports that family members of victims in the Gilgo Beach case expressed outrage that Ellerup, her two kids, and their attorneys will receive large sums from NBCUniversal’s streaming service Peacock, which will reportedly follow the family throughout the trial. The Society for Professional Journalists is critical of the media paying for interviews — a frowned-upon practice known as checkbook journalism — in exchange for exclusive rights to a person’s story.

Ellerup attended her estranged husband’s most recent pretrial hearing last month at Suffolk County court — the first court date she came to since Heuermann was arrested in July and she filed for divorce days later. Heuermann pleaded not guilty to the murders of Melissa Barthelemy, Amber Lynn Costello, and Megan Waterman. He is a prime suspect in the murder of Maureen Brainard-Barnes and authorities have said they are investigating if he is involved in the deaths of others found in the area.

John Ray, the Miller Place-based attorney who represents a victim tied to one of the unsolved cases, welcomed the proposal and suggested it be expanded further.

“[Ellerup’s] lips may close with the new law if her funds are snatched from her or even if she fears that they will be so,” he said. “How does the law stop the  Heuermanns’ lawyers from profiting from assisting their clients in selling themselves into infamy? The law needs tinkering.”

Heuermann is due back in court for his next pre-trial hearing in February. Neither Peacock representatives nor the attorney for Heuermann’s kids were immediately available for comment.

Related Story: Gilgo Beach Serial Killer Suspect Rex Heuermann Lived Near Nassau Police Academy

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