7 On Your Side Investigates: Taxpayers footing bill for wrongful convictions

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- After spending 25 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit, Samuel Brownridge testified at his virtual hearing two weeks ago when the court tossed out his 1994 conviction.

"I say to myself, why me," he said. "I don't think anyone who has hasn't been incarcerated knows what it feels like to be locked up, especially when they're innocent."

It took new evidence from a three-year long investigation to clear Brownridge's name and free him of criminal charges.

After Brownridge, now 45, served the minimum 25 years of his sentence, he was released in March 2019 on lifetime parole while continuing to fight for justice.

Seven On Your Side Investigates uncovered dozens of similar cases that have made their way to civil court over the past five years, with the city of New York paying out more than $50 million in various settlements over the past five years.

The top three largest settlements paid out all involved wrongful convictions.

Court records show the city paid Reginald Connor $7.95 million after he spent more than 15 years behind bars before his kidnapping conviction was overturned.

Jonathan Fleming received $6.25 million after being exonerated following 25 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit.

And Malisha Blyden was granted $2.67 million after her attempted murder charge was overturned. She spent seven years behind bars.

"Unfortunately, our civil justice system only can provide monetary compensation," said attorney Julia Kuan, who has represented many clients with wrongful conviction claims. "You can't turn back the clock and make it as if it didn't happen."

Kuan says everyone loses in these cases, from taxpayers to those who have lost years of their lives, to the victims of the crimes they were accused of committing -- with the true criminals often still free.

"The police and prosecutors really need to make sure that they're following the rules, turning over evidence," Kuan said. "It's not just about winning. Justice is about doing the right thing."

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