After spending 25 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, Queens man, Samuel Brownridge’s conviction has been vacated after the emergence of new evidence upholding his innocence.
A state judge in Queens vacated Brownridge’s conviction last Tuesday after the Queens district attorney, Melinda Katz and his lawyers, filed a joint “motion to throw out the case” because a vital witness renounced his testimony. Six others had also come forward to say Brownridge wasn’t the killer, The New York Times reports.
“I don’t think one who has never been incarcerated knows how it feels to be locked up, especially when they are innocent,” Brownridge said in a statement. “I feel that law enforcement had the opportunity to make this right years ago.”
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“To many of you, this may look like a victory, but… I cannot help but see all that I lost,” he said. “But I also see hope. Hope for my future. Hope for my family. And hope for reform.”
Brownridge was 18 years old when he was arrested on March 11, 1994, for the murder of Darryle Adams. Adams was shot in the back of the head. His arrest came after two men identified him as the shooter in a photo display.
Aware of the discriminatory nature of America’s justice system, Brownridge knew he would never make it home after he was taken to the police station. Prosecutors relied on the false testimony of the two men to inveigle a jury to send him away for the murder he did not commit.
“I sit down sometimes and say to myself, why me?” he said. “My 20s, 30s, and half of my 40s are gone. I sat in a jail cell every night waiting for this day, while others went home to their families, knowing that the system failed and law enforcement did not do what they could to free an innocent man.”
“It’s something you never will forget: years of my life, years of being a father, a husband, plenty of years, and opportunities in life that I missed,” added Brownridge, now 45.
Prosecutors began re-examining Brownridge’s wrongful conviction claim in 2018. According to The Times, the investigation was completed by the Conviction Integrity Unit established by Katz after taking office in January.
“The idea that someone is in prison who hasn’t committed the crime is something that should be important to everybody,” Katz said. “No system is perfect, and there has to be ways to catch the imperfections.”
According to the National Registry of Exonerations, 29 people have been exonerated in cases that include murder, rape, and robbery in Queens since 1992 with many overturned because of mistaken witness identification, false accusation, or official misconduct.
“This is a profoundly poignant day for Mr. Brownridge,” Katz said. “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 real 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.”
Justice Joseph Zayas said as he addressed Mr. Brownridge that everyone in the criminal justice system failed the latter in some way or another, noting that: “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 its ability to deliver equal and fair justice to all.”