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Samuel Brownridge

Other Queens County, New York exonerations
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On the evening of March 7, 1994, 32-year-old Darryle Adams was fatally shot during a confrontation with four men, one of whom was in a wheelchair, near the intersection of Quencer Road and Mexico Street in Saint Albans, Queens, New York.

During the altercation, Adams went to his knees, begging for his life. In response, the man in the wheelchair smashed a bottle over his head. Adams was then shot in the back of the head by one of the other men.

Two days later, Kevin Boatwright told police that he also had been accosted by four men, one of them in a wheelchair, not long before Adams was killed. Two suspects had been arrested and detectives showed Boatwright two six-photograph lineups, each of which contained a photo of one of the suspects. Boatwright identified one man as the shooter and the other as the man in the wheelchair. However, when the men were put into a live lineup, Boatwright was unable to identify them and both—who were later determined not to be involved in the crime—were released.

At the time, a prosecutor prepared a memorandum of the identification procedures. The misidentifications were not included in a police report, however.

Four days later, on March 13, 1994, 19-year-old Quentin Hagood, who would later be described as “very slow” and living in “a home with other mentally-challenged people,” told detectives that on the night of the murder, he saw four men, including one he knew as "Mookie,” running away from the scene of the shooting. A detective recognized “Mookie” as the nickname of 18-year-old Samuel Brownridge. As a result, a photo of Brownridge was put into a photo lineup. Hagood and Boatwright each looked at the array and selected Brownridge as the gunman who shot Adams.

Brownridge was arrested the following day and charged with second-degree murder and attempted first-degree robbery. No one else was ever arrested for the crime.

In April 1995, Brownridge went to trial in Queens County Supreme Court. Boatright testified that on the night of the crime, he was walking on Mexico Street toward Quencer road when he saw four men, one in a wheelchair, on the street ahead of him. Boatwright said he said, “What’s up?” In response, Brownridge pulled out a gun, put it to Boatwright’s head, and said, “What do you mean, what’s up (obscenity)?”

Boatwright testified that another man pulled a gun as well. He said he told them he didn’t have any money. At that, Brownridge lowered his gun and began to walk away. The other gunman walked backwards away from him, still holding his gun aimed at Boatwright.

Boatwright said he then saw Adams walking toward the four men. However, Adams could not see Boatwright because of a van parked on the street. Boatwright said he saw one of the men point a gun at Adams, who raised his hands above his head. Then, Adams went to his knees. As he begged for his life, Boatwright said, the man in the wheelchair hit him in the face with a bottle. And then, Boatwright testified, Brownridge shot Adams in the back of the head. Boatwright’s original description of the gunman was a man with a fade haircut—with shaved sides—but at the trial he testified the gunman had a short Afro, which was what Brownridge’s hair was at the time.

Boatwright said he ran home and called Adams’s father to tell him what happened.

The prosecution did not disclose to the defense that Boatwright had mistakenly identified two other men in the first photographic arrays that he was shown.

Hagood originally told police that he was sitting on the porch of a friend’s home on Mexico Street when he heard gunfire and saw “Mookie” run past. However, now he told the jury that he actually saw the shooting, although the layout of the street and crime scene photos showed it was impossible to see the shooting from his vantage point on the porch. He said he saw Adams kneeling on the ground and get hit in the head with a beer bottle. Hagood claimed he could smell the beer, though he was at least 60 feet away.

He also claimed that there was a crowd around Adams during the shooting, but that he was the only one who heard the gunfire. He said he was sitting outside because it was warm, although the temperature was actually below freezing. Hagood said his vision was 20-20, but then said he needed glasses to read an exhibit and actually saw better when it was dark.

Brownridge’s father, Samuel Sr., testified that in October 1993, about six months before Adams was killed, Samuel had been the victim of a shooting and two other men with Samuel were killed. He said that Detective Ray Medina, who was handling the Adams case, came to their house five or six times to talk about the October shooting.

Brownridge’s mother, Hattie, also testified that Medina had come by repeatedly. She said that at one point, Medina threatened to put her son in jail if he did not cooperate with the investigation. She also testified that Samuel did not have a friend who was in a wheelchair. She was not allowed to testify as to Samuel’s whereabouts on the night of the crime because Brownridge’s defense attorney had failed to file a notice of alibi by the required pre-trial deadline.

Brownridge testified and denied he was involved in the crime. He said he never owned or shot a gun. He said he had a verbal disagreement with Boatwright in January 1994—three months before Adams was shot. Brownridge also said that on October 1, 1993, he had been shot and two of friends were killed. He said that Medina wanted him to come to the precinct to cooperate in the investigation, but he refused.

Brownridge also testified that after he was arrested for the Adams murder, Medina came to his jail cell and said he would “walk away” from the murder charge if he would cooperate in the investigation of the October shooting. Brownridge was not allowed to talk about his alibi because his defense attorney failed to meet the pre-trial deadline for filing an alibi defense.

Medina testified and denied he was investigating the October shooting or that he had been to the Brownridge home.

During closing argument to the jury, the prosecutor acknowledged that Hagood’s testimony was problematic, but said that Hagood was “so slow” that he was “incapable of lying.”

On April 19, 1995, the jury convicted Brownridge of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 25 years to life prison.

In August 1999, while his appeal of his conviction was pending, Brownridge filed a motion to vacate his conviction. Among his claims were that his trial lawyer failed to investigate alibi witnesses and failed to file a timely alibi notice. In December 1999, the New York Appellate Division upheld his convictions. In August 2000, Brownridge’s motion to vacate his conviction was denied. In November 2000, Brownridge filed a motion to reargue the denial.

On May 3, 2002, after the motion was granted and a hearing was ordered, Mark Taylor had been arrested in Florida on drug charges and extradited to New York. At that time, he attempted to get leniency by saying that he had been present when Adams was shot and that the gunman was not Samuel Brownridge. The prosecutor handling the case, Richard Schaeffer, had a preliminary meeting with Taylor and his attorney and scheduled a more extensive interview for July. At the initial meeting, Taylor said the gunman was Garfield Brown, who resembled Brownridge, and that two others also were there—Dean Hoskins and Darren Lee, who was in a wheelchair.

Schaeffer learned that Brown had been convicted of manslaughter in 1988 when he was a bodyguard for the rap group Run-D.M.C. at a concert in Fresno, California. While breaking up a fight, Brown and two other bodyguards took a concert attendee, Alex Baldwin, backstage, threw him onto a concrete floor and kicked him. Baldwin died of a head injury. Schaeffer also learned that Brown had been featured recently on the television show America’s Most Wanted because he was wanted for the 1999 murder of Patrick Harris in Queens, New York and the 2001 murder of Kelvin Parks in New Haven, Connecticut.

On May 9, 2002—just days later—Brown was fatally shot in Greensboro, North Carolina, during a shoot-out with deputy U.S. marshals who attempted to arrest him in a parking lot.

The hearing on Brownridge’s alibi claim was expanded to include evidence relating to Taylor’s claim and testimony was heard over a series of dates beginning in 2003 and concluding in March 2004.

Ruth Bolton, who was at the time Brownridge’s fiancée, testified that Brownridge was with her from before 8 p.m. and spent the night with her. Bolton said her aunt, a cousin and her son also were there and could have testified that Brownridge was there that night. Brownridge’s mother testified that she spoke to her son at Bolton’s home on the night of the murder.

Dean Hoskins and Darren Lee testified that they were with Garfield Brown on the night of the murder and that they saw Brown kill Adams.

Hoskins testified that he became aware back in 1994 or 1995 that someone whom he did not know had been charged with the murder and that it was not Brown. Hoskins said he did not identify Brown as the killer until after Brown’s death because he was afraid of Brown. Hoskins denied that Adams was hit in the face with a bottle before he was shot.

Lee, the man in the wheelchair, was not in court. However, a video tape of his statement was shown during which he said was with Hoskins and Brown on the night of the murder and that Brown was the gunman. Lee denied hitting Adams with a bottle, however.

Michael Saxton testified that after the shooting, Mark Taylor admitted to being present at the shooting and that Brown was the gunman. Saxton said that in later conversations, Lee and Hoskins admitted to him that they were present and that Brown shot Adams. Saxton also testified that although he knew that Brownridge had been convicted, he did not come forward until after Brown was killed in North Carolina. He said he knew Brown and did not want to be “a rat or...even worse” a “dead rat.”

When Taylor was called to testify at the hearing, he recanted his original statement. He said he was not present and that Brown was not the gunman. After his testimony and before the hearings ended, the prosecution discovered that Taylor had been threatened because he implicated Lee in the crime. He had told he had been labeled a snitch and that people were coming to court to watch him testify and implicate himself as an accessory to the murder.

After the threats were revealed, Taylor told his attorneys he wanted to “correct his testimony.” Schaeffer offered to extend immunity for any perjury charges if he were to testify, but the judge presiding over the hearing, New York Supreme Court Justice Robert Hanophy, said he would not allow it. Hanophy said that if Taylor were to be recalled and testified that Brownridge was not the gunman, Hanophy would “recommend to the District Attorney’s Office that they prosecute him for perjury.” As a result, Taylor was never recalled to testify.

In August 2004, Hanophy denied the motion to vacate the conviction. He said that even with alibi witnesses, Brownridge would have been convicted and that witnesses who identified Brown as the gunman were not credible. Brownridge sought to appeal that ruling, but his request was denied.

In 2006, Brownridge filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus. That petition was denied in 2010 by U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie, who characterized the evidence that Brown was the gunman as a “charade.”

In 2018, Brownridge, represented by Donna Aldea of the law firm Barket, Epstein, Kearon, Aldea, & LoTurco, LLP, presented evidence of innocence to the Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) of the Queens County District Attorney’s Office.

The law firm had filed a public records request which revealed that Boatwright had made the two prior misidentifications. That information was contained in an internal prosecution memo that was prepared by the prosecutor who attended the lineups. Brownridge’s trial defense attorney confirmed that this was not disclosed by the prosecution. 

In response to the defense claim that the failure to disclose the misidentification memo, the District Attorney’s Office produced the actual photo arrays that Boatwright had viewed when he made the incorrect identifications. These arrays had not been disclosed to Brownridge’s trial lawyer or to the post-conviction defense team. 

The photographs further undermined Boatwright’s identification because the man he identified as the shooter looked nothing like Brownridge. The defense claimed this demonstrated that Boatwright had really not seen or could not recall the appearance of the shooter at all, and made it highly unlikely that he later picked Brownridge, unless he had been improperly influenced.

The defense also said that Hagood had recanted his identification of Brownridge and that Hagood had been diagnosed as schizophrenic. Aldea had received a copy of Hagood’s written statement to police in March 1994—which had not been disclosed to the defense—in which he said he knew of the men involved in the shooting was Brownridge, but did not saw how he knew that. He never said in the statement that he saw the shooting, although he testified at the trial that he did see the shooting.

Hagood signed an affidavit in 2019 stating that Boatwright believed that Brownridge was the gunman and “pressured” Hagood to tell police that he was the shooter. “I told Kevin Boatwright that it wasn’t right and I didn’t want to say that Brownridge was the shooter because I did not think he was the shooter. But Kevin had already told the police that I saw Brownridge shoot [Adams]. That was a lie.”

Hagood said he told police that he didn’t think Brownridge was the gunman, but “they thought he did it and they pressured me to identify him. They said I would go to jail if I didn’t testify against Brownridge. I was young and I was afraid to go to jail.”

“At the lineup, the police detective showed me one single photograph,” Hagood said in the affidavit. “It was Samuel Brownridge….The police wanted me to say he was the shooter.”

Hagood also said that identification of Brownridge at the trial “was not true. I was afraid that if I did not testify against Brownridge, the police would send me to jail. I was pressured…by the police and the DA, who met with me a few days before the trial and also on the day I testified at trial.”

The defense also found a witness who said that he was with Saxton in March 1994 when Taylor said, “Garfield did it…shot that guy for nothing…I’m not going down for it. He shot this guy for nothing.”

Moreover, another witness—a man who was godfather to one of Brown’s children—signed an affidavit saying that in March 1994, Brown admitted that he killed Adams.

On March 11, 2019, Brownridge was released on parole.

On June 23, 2020, CIU chief Bryce Benjet and senior assistant district attorney Alexis Celestin concluded that Brownridge was innocent and presented a joint motion with Brownridge’s attorneys to vacate his conviction. The motion noted that Lee, Hoskins and Taylor had admitted they were present when Brown murdered Adams. In addition, a witness had been identified who said that Brown was with Lee, Hoskins and Taylor on the night of the murder near where Adams was killed.

Moreover, Taylor told two other men on the night of the murder that Brown had shot someone. In addition, Brown confessed to a friend not long after the shooting that he had shot someone to death on a street in St. Albans.

The motion noted that Brown bore a striking resemblance to Brownridge.

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz declared, “This is a profoundly poignant day for Mr. Brownridge. After decades of voicing his innocence—this man who served 25 years for a crime he did not commit—will finally be unencumbered by this miscarriage of justice.”

“We must always keep in mind that when an innocent person is imprisoned for a crime he or she did not commit, the perpetrator evades justice and is free to commit other atrocities,” Katz said. “In this case, Garfield Brown was never held accountable for this violent crime.”

Aldea said, “After years of hard work, investigation and unrelenting persistence in our fight for justice, today—after 25 years—the truth has finally prevailed.”

During a virtual hearing, Queens County Administrative Judge Joseph Zayas wept as he vacated Brownridge’s conviction and dismissed the case.

“The Court…agrees with the parties that Brownridge has met the heavy burden of establishing his factual innocence,” Judge Zayas said in his ruling. “And more fundamentally, he has shown that from the outset of this case, almost everyone in the criminal justice system who had a hand in this matter failed him in one way or another, resulting in a grave miscarriage of justice.”

Brownridge, whose own tears prompted Aldea and Katz to begin crying as well, recounted how his mother had died and was “not able to see me get exonerated here today.” He added, “I sit down sometimes, and I say to myself, ‘Why me? My twenties, my thirties and half of my forties are gone.”

“To many of you, this may look like a victory, but as I am here before you today, I cannot help but see the loss,” he said. “All this time, I never gave up because I had to keep fighting for my family. And I know you need to fight for what is right and what is true.”

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 7/20/2020
Last Updated: 7/20/2020
State:New York
County:Queens
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1994
Convicted:1995
Exonerated:2020
Sentence:25 to life
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:18
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No