Volume 73, Number 7 | June 16 - 22, 2004

‘Butcher of Tompkins Sq.’ hopes to gain his release

By Tien-Shun Lee

Villager photo by John Penley

Daniel Rakowitz, holding chicken, with the homeless in Tompkins Sq. Park in
the 1980s.

A lawyer representing Daniel Rakowitz, the former East Village man who admitted to chopping up his ex-lover and serving her to the Tompkins Sq. Park homeless in a soup, told jurors on Monday during opening trial statements that Rakowitz is no longer dangerously ill.

“For 13 years, [Rakowitz] has lived in an environment with psychotic people. He has not gotten into any fights,” said Donald Graham, an attorney for the Mental Hygiene Legal Service, a state agency that represents psychiatric patients during trials.

“He was assaulted several times and he did not retaliate,” Graham added. “He has never been put into restraints. He has never been put into a time-out room. In 1997, when a staff member was attacked by a patient, Mr. Rakowitz intervened to help the staff.”

Rakowitz, 43, was acquitted of murder by reason of insanity after he confessed to carving up ex-girlfriend Monica Beerle in August 1989, boiling her remains in a soup and ladling out the soup to homeless people in Tompkins Sq. Park. Since the conclusion of his first trial in 1991, Rakowitz has been living in Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center, a maximum-security hospital on Wards Island.

Rakowitz went through a sanity trial in 1995, but the jurors did not believe that he was a changed and sane man as a result of having quit smoking pot. This time around, State Supreme Justice Donna Mills will preside over the courtroom. After hearing a jury’s advisory opinion, she will make the ultimate decision of whether or not Rakowitz should remain in Kirby.

If Mills decides that Rakowitz is sane and capable, he could potentially be transferred to a less-secure psychiatric facility, or discharged completely.

During the 1980s, Beerle was a dance student at the Martha Graham School of Dance on Lafayette St. East Village residents who were acquainted with Rakowitz and his girlfriend said Beerle had a severe drug problem, and that the murder took place after Beerle began bringing her drug-using friends over to Rakowitz’s home on Ninth St. near Avenue C.

“I was a little surprised by the whole story. I was shocked, I should say,” Michael, a psychologist who knew Rakowitz and Beerle in the 1980s, told The Villager last week. “I even thought it was a conspiracy of some sort, because at that time the East Village was a place of resistance. They were putting people away left and right from the group, so we never knew what people really did. I even doubted the story was true after I saw it in the newspaper, in the Daily News.”

Michael, 35, who preferred not to give his last name, is a former punk who hung out in Tompkins Sq. Park in the 1980s with a group that included Rakowitz. He said he personally did not drink the soup but knew of some homeless people who had tasted Rakowitz’s cooking who wanted to kill Rakowitz after finding out what they had eaten.

“When I think about [Rakowitz], I kind of associate him with the nihilist crowd,” said Michael. “I remember him wearing button-up shirts, kind of plaidy. I remember he used to dress more on the beatnik style. He had long, blond hair and a beard. He wasn’t into the punk scene, so he stood out.

“When things like that happen, you’re never so sure what’s reality, what’s fiction,” Michael added. “What I understand is that the homeless people in the park were after him.”

Attorney Graham said Rakowitz denies killing Beerle on Aug. 19, 1989, and that he didn’t believe that the psychiatric system was going to give him a chance to show that he is not dangerously mentally ill.

During a confession videotaped inside the Ninth Police Precinct on Sept. 16, 1989, Rakowitz said he slept with Beerle, a Swiss dancer, twice before noticing some brown moles in Beerle’s sexual parts that made him not want to “party out” with her anymore.

“He wants to testify to explain why that story [of killing Beerle] is not true,” Graham said during Monday’s opening statements. “He will not deny that he was in the room at the time when other people killed her.”

In court on Monday, Nancy Hornstein, an assistant to the state attorney general, told the jury of three women and seven men on Monday that Rakowitz has a severe character pathology and that there is danger within him.

“He’s a pathological liar, which is one of the characteristics of anti-social pathology,” said Hornstein. “While he has been at the [maximum-security] hospital facility, he has shown no remorse for what happened to Monica Beerle. At this point, he has no understanding of what led up to the murder. His sole mantra is ‘denial, denial, denial.’ ”

Before the murder of Beerle, Rakowitz married a 14-year-old woman, whom he battered and chained to his refrigerator, said Hornstein. When asked why he chained her to his refrigerator, Rakowitz replied that the woman wanted him to chain her there.

In an interview last week, Steve Harkavy, deputy director of the Mental Hygiene Legal Service, said the court system has become more conservative in the last 10 years with regard to transferring maximum-security patients to less-secure psychiatric hospitals.

“There used to be a lot more [maximum-security patients] transferred than is currently happening,” said Harkavy. “In all candor, a lot of the patients end up doing a lot more time in secure psychiatric hospitals than they need to.”

Graham said Rakowitz had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic by various psychiatrists, and that he had never consented to taking psychiatric medications.

In an interview last Thursday, Elena Bruck, M.D., a psychiatrist at Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan, said it would not be a good idea to let Rakowitz go free.

“I don’t think he should be let free because the history of these people is that they’ll do it again. There is no evidence that these people get cured,” said Bruck. “Yes, it is some kind of insanity. On the other hand, just because you killed someone, it doesn’t mean you have a psychiatric illness. They’re two different things.”

According to Harkavy, who worked in Kirby Psychiatric Center for close to 10 years, in order to be housed and treated in Kirby, patients must be issued a certain classification of court order. While most patients are treated with medication, some are treated only with talk therapy.

Kirby is one of two secure forensic psychiatric hospitals in the state. The term “forensic” refers to an interplay between law and psychiatry.

In an e-mail response to The Villager’s questions, Roger Klingman, a representative of New York State’s forensic psychiatric centers, said no patients are ever discharged directly to society from a forensic psychiatric center, but are first sent to less-secure facilities.

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