By Dave Collins
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Only weeks before a nurse was slain and another woman sexually assaulted on opposite sides of the country, a New York judge released the suspect without bail in a separate strangulation case — not knowing he had a violent criminal history involving women.
The freeing of Danueal Drayton on July 5 has outraged the nurse’s family and frustrated prosecutors. They and Drayton’s defense lawyers believe he would still be behind bars on the Long Island strangulation charge if they and the judge had known about his rap sheet in Connecticut. His record in New York was clean.
“You can’t let a person like this walk out of jail … free without a bond,” Kenneth Stewart, whose daughter, Samantha, was found dead in her Queens apartment on July 17, told reporters last week. “My daughter would be living today.”
Police said Drayton met some victims on the Tinder dating app.
Drayton was arrested last week in Los Angeles after police say he raped a woman he met during an Uber ride. He pleaded not guilty. He told New York’s Daily News in a jailhouse interview that voices in his head made him kill Stewart. He also recalled choking the two other women in Los Angeles and New York.
Two law enforcement officials previously told The Associated Press that after his arrest, Drayton, 27, claimed to have killed at least five women. The officials were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity. Police are trying to confirm if his statements are true.
Authorities are also looking back with regret on a lost chance to put Drayton behind bars in early July, when he was charged in New York City’s Long Island suburbs with choking an ex-girlfriend at a park.
One judge initially set his bail at $2,000 bond or $1,000 cash, which he couldn’t immediately post. At a follow-up bail hearing on July 5, Judge Erica Prager lowered the bail amount to nothing and ordered him released.
A spokesman for Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said her office is now reviewing why Drayton’s Connecticut criminal record, which was available in a national database, was not presented to Prager before she freed him.
The DA’s spokesman, Brendan Brosh, said in a statement that prosecutors believed his bail shouldn’t have been lowered, even without the information on his record of hurting women in Connecticut.
“The prosecutor on July 5 detailed serious threats made by the defendant to the victim, and noted that he had slashed the tires on her car,” he said.
Prager did not return a message seeking comment, but a spokesman for the Nassau courts, Daniel Bagnuola, said the judge “made her determination based on all the current, relevant and factual information that was provided to the court at that time.”
“It would have been impossible for the judge at that time to foresee the allegations that are presently unfolding and coming to light with regard to this defendant,” he said.
Lawyers with the Legal Aid Society of Nassau County, who are representing him in the strangulation case, said they also did not know at the time about his Connecticut record, which includes a nonfatal strangulation, unlawful restraint and violating protective orders.
If the judge had that information, “she probably would have made a different determination on the bail,” said N. Scott Banks, the aid society’s chief attorney.
Drayton, who had lived in New Haven, also slipped through the cracks in Connecticut, where his probation officer tried multiple times to find him after he disappeared in late May and missed required meetings. He was on probation for misdemeanor harassment.
Connecticut officials never learned of his June 30 arrest in New York and obtained an arrest warrant for him on July 26, according to the Connecticut Judicial Branch.
Court records obtained by the AP show Drayton was sentenced to three years in prison in 2013 for beating and choking his girlfriend in East Haven and violating a protective order
“He started pummeling me in my face!” the girlfriend told police. “Swing after swing after swing to the point my body went into shock. … He grabbed me from behind and started strangulating me with his arms and within seconds I passed out.”
He got out of prison in November 2014 and began serving probation. Seven months later, he was arrested again for holding another woman against her will in Waterbury, and got another three-year prison sentence. He got out on probation in April 2017. He was arrested again in February by New Haven police for sending threatening messages to a male friend. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year of probation in March.
Connecticut prosecutor Sean McGuinness declined to comment on the 2018 harassment case.
New York Police Department Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea said Thursday that Drayton has been speaking with investigators in California and has said things that would lead them to believe he’s responsible for other crimes in New York City.
Nothing Drayton has said regarding those alleged crimes has been verified by NYPD investigators.
“We are very interested in the history of Mr. Drayton,” Shea said. “We have resources devoted to really following up on his past. What could we learn? What other victims may there be?”
Associated Press writers Michael R. Sisak, Colleen Long and Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.