“Everyone in the criminal justice system failed you in some way or another,” Justice Joseph Zayas as he addressed Samuel Brownridge.
Darryle Adams was on his knees, begging for his life. He emptied his pockets after four men mugged him. One of the muggers had pointed a gun at him, while the second man in a wheelchair, had struck Adams in the head with a bottle, then the gunman shot Adams in the back of his head.
4 days later, On March 11, 1994, police knocked on the door of 18-year-old Samuel Brownridge. Samuel had been at home with his girlfriend and their baby, but police believed that he was involved in a robbery-murder, that happened 4 days ago, about a 30-minute walk from his house in Queens, New York.
Police took him to the police station and charged him with the death of Darryle Adams after two men identified him in a photo array and in the lineup as a shooter.
In 2017, the newly formed CIU, Conviction Integrity Unit under the Queens District Attorney’s office review Samuel’s case and found a number of mistakes that were made during the initial investigation.
“His exoneration is not going to get him back the 25 years he lost for a murder he did not commit, said Donna Aldea, Samuel Brownridge’s lawyer.”
“There was a failure at every level of this case – from the investigation and arrest, the trial, and the appellate process.”
Murder and False Conviction of Samuel Brownridge
After Darryle Adams was killed by the muggers on a Queens street, Samuel was arrested after two men identified him and three other men, one of them in a wheelchair.
The detectives ignored all the leads that would have led them to the killers. The case on Brownridge was entirely based around two witnesses, Kevin Boatwright and Quintin Hagood, who identified Samuel in the police lineup as the shooter.
Samuel testified at trial that when the shooting occurred he was with his girlfriend and son in Queens Village, about 30 minutes walk from the crime scene. Even his girlfriend, her mother, and his own mother were prepared to testify that Samuel was nowhere near the scene and could not have shot Darryle.
But the defense lawyer failed to inform the court that he intended to call Samuel’s wife, her mother, and his mother as alibi witnesses and as a result, they did not testify at trial.
According to the court documents, Samuel wasn’t the only innocent man that Boatwright identified. Boatwright described the perpetrator as being in his 20s with a fade haircut, but Samuel was a teenager with medium length hair.
Other witnesses identified another man, Mark Taylor who told detectives and the DA that Samuel was not involved in the shooting. A man named Garfield Brown killed Darryle Adams.
Darren Lee and Dean Hoskins, who were present at the hearing backed Mark’s account, all of them said they were with Garfield Brown when he shot Adams.
But the statements were not recorded in police reports, only noted by an assistant DA.
The second witness, Hagood, suffered from schizophrenia, he was also allegedly coerced by Boatwright and the police to name Samuel as the shooter.
No murder weapon or any forensic evidence was never found that tied Samuel Brownridge to the scene.
As a result, Samuel Brownridge was sentenced to “25 to life.” The original judge on the case, Justice Robert Hanophy, recommended that Samuel remain in prison “until he dies.”
Samuel filed an appeal in state and federal court in 1999 and was granted a hearing in 2003.
The hearing to reconsider Samuel’s conviction fell apart when Mark Taylor recanted his statement on the witness statement, as he was threatened and labeled a snitch.
Justice, But Decades Later
The hearing in 2003 went nowhere, but it wasn’t until 2017 when the case was picked up by CIU.
Samuel’s current lawyer, Donna Aldea began reviewing the case in 2017 found that the detectives had received Lee’s name from witnesses, but never tried to interview him.
Donna also located a friend of Brown who said that Brown confessed to Killing Adams and two other people who placed Mark Taylor at the crime scene.
Samuel was released on lifetime parole in March 2019 after he served the minimum 25 years of his sentence,
“Everyone in the criminal justice system failed you in some way or another,” said Justice Joseph Zayas.
“The miscarriage of justice in your case is monumental. It is, therefore, no surprise that large segments of our city and our country have grave doubts about the criminal justice system and it’s the ability to deliver equal and fair justice to all.”
Justice Robert Hanophy, now 85 said that he did not remember the case, “I tried more homicides than any judge in the country,” he had been told that his sentences were sometimes excessive. I’m 85 now. I’ve left a lot of the behind me.”
But for Samuel Brownridge, it is not that simple.
“It’s something you will never forget: years of my life, years of being a father, a husband, plenty of years and opportunities in life that I missed,” said Samuel Brownridge, who now works at a supermarket deli in Maryland, “I was innocent. I can’t just lay down.”
Samuel Brownridge now lives in Maryland with his wife, son, and two stepchildren. Now that he doesn’t have a criminal record he is excited about his new job and wants to become a chef one day.
Unfortunately, cases like Samuel are too common, so far, more than 50 people have asked the CIU to review their convictions as well.