Man Who Police Say Used Tinder to Hunt Women Is Charged With Murder
A man who prosecutors say killed a Queens woman shortly after a paperwork mix-up led to his release from custody four years ago was charged with her murder on Friday, the latest chapter in a cross-country crime story.
The man, Danueal Drayton, 31, was arraigned on Friday in state court in Queens on charges that he raped and strangled Samantha Stewart, a 29-year-old nurse from Springfield Gardens whom, prosecutors said, he met on the dating app Tinder.
At the time of Ms. Stewart’s death, in July 2018, Mr. Drayton was free on $2,000 bail while awaiting trial in an unrelated case in Nassau County. N.Y. He had been charged there earlier that year with choking a former girlfriend after she tried to end their relationship, court records show.
But the judge who released him in that case did not know Mr. Drayton had a criminal record in his home state, Connecticut, dating to at least 2011. (The prosecutor, court clerks and Mr. Drayton’s public defender also did not know.) Mr. Drayton had served jail sentences in Connecticut for strangulation and harassment and for violating protective orders, state court records show.
Mr. Drayton killed Ms. Stewart two weeks after he was released in the Nassau County case, the police said at the time. He fled to Los Angeles with her driver’s license and used her credit card to pay for airfare, according to the indictment charging him and a news release issued by the Queens district attorney’s office.
New York police detectives found Mr. Drayton a week later in North Hollywood, Calif., where members of a fugitive task force discovered him holding a woman captive. He had been held in Los Angeles since then on rape charges filed there before being extradited to New York this week.
Nassau County officials learned later that records related to his criminal past in Connecticut had been missing from his New York court file — information the Nassau County judge could have used to determine whether to keep Mr. Drayton in custody before trial.
New York state law requires police departments to provide physical copies of a defendant’s criminal records to the district attorneys and the courts. Court clerks in New York who have the appropriate security clearance can view state criminal records through an electronic portal, but for out-of-state criminal records, judges often rely on local police to provide the documents. (Nassau County police said in 2018 that they had hand-delivered a copy of Mr. Drayton’s records to the court.)
Mr. Drayton’s release was not a product the state bail law that is now at the center of a contentious debate in Albany. Gov. Kathy Hochul has proposed changes that would make the law more restrictive, most likely expand judicial discretion and effectively increase the number of crimes that are eligible for bail. Mr. Drayton’s 2018 release was attributed to missing paperwork and a lapse in communication.
The way in which New York’s courts acquire out-of-state criminal records has not changed since Mr. Drayton’s release in 2018, which did not suggest a systemic issue, Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for state court system, said.
“What happened in this case was a tragic aberration,” Mr. Chalfen said in an email. The procedure, he added, was that local law enforcement agencies provided courts with both New York and out-of-state records.
On Friday, Mr. Drayton, facing second-degree murder, larceny, sexual misconduct and other charges, shuffled into the Queens courtroom with his head down, his hands cuffed behind his long-sleeved blue sweater and his gray Nike sneakers squeaking quietly as he walked. He sat between two detectives in suits, tapping his left foot and trembling.
Minutes later, he stood silently in front of Justice Kenneth C. Holder of State Supreme Court as Shawn Clark, a Queens prosecutor, detailed how, in a video statement recorded on July 24, 2018, Mr. Drayton told New York detectives during an interview at a California police station how he had met Ms. Stewart online, how they had gone out for pizza and how he later choked her in her Springfield Gardens apartment.
“The victim was duped into going out on a date with the defendant, who played a charmer online but was in fact an alleged sexual predator,” Melinda Katz, the Queens district attorney, said in a statement. “After this heinous act of violence, the defendant fled the state to escape prosecution. Now back in our custody, this defendant will be held to account for his alleged actions.”
Mr. Drayton’s lawyer declined to comment when approached outside court.
Justice Holder ordered Mr. Drayton — who faces up to 25 years-to-life in prison if convicted — to be held without bail.