TRAGIC $5M BLUNDERJan 1, 2005 | New York Post New York state must pay $5.5 million in damages to the victims of a career thug who went on a deadly rape spree in Long Island shortly after he was mistakenly released from prison due to a court clerk's screw-up.
Court of Claims Judge Alan Marin's ruling held that the state is more liable for the murder and two rapes committed by Franklin Scruggs than Scruggs himself because the perpetrator was wrongly freed from an upstate prison, where he still had 13 years on an unrelated assault sentence.
"It's a landmark case," said Jerrold Parker, lawyer for the estate of Michelle Brey, who was raped and beaten to death by Scruggs in October 1998 less than a year after his release.
"This is the first time a state has been held liable for damages after wrongly releasing a convict."
Brey's three children who were 5, 7, and 9 at the time of their mother's murder will share $3.6 million of the $5.5 million ruling. The remainder will go to Scruggs' other victim, who survived the rape and assault two weeks earlier.
Her name is being withheld.
"We're obviously pleased with the ruling," said Steven Palermo, the unidentified rape victim's lawyer. "But it's troubling because the state has never accepted responsibility for what happened."
Lawyers for the Attorney General's Office argued the state should not be held liable for Scruggs' two-week rape spree. But Marin's ruling, handed down last week and first reported yesterday, blamed the state for a lack of "oversight or any effective managerial controls [and] the many opportunities to catch the error."
"The communications passing between [the state employees] was akin to a game of telephone," the judge wrote. "This mistake was never brought out by a system of internal controls. That took additional violent felonies by Scruggs."
Any number of state employees could have caught the error, the judge found.
Scruggs had been serving a 20-years-to-life sentence at Great Meadow Correctional Facility for assault and reckless endangerment. An appeals court threw out the reckless-endangerment charge and ordered a lower court to resentence Scruggs.
The records coordinator at the upstate prison had sent a letter reminding the lower-court judge to return Scruggs to serve out the remainder of his assault charge. But that judge's clerk forgot about the remaining sentence and issued an order to release Scruggs outright.
The prison records coordinator also forgot about his remaining assault and released him after the clerk's order in November 1997.
Scruggs met his first victim, a mother of two children, in a Suffolk County bar on Sept. 26, 1998. He offered her a ride home, but then parked the car on a secluded road and beat and raped her.
Two weeks later, Scruggs raped and killed Brey, a divorced mom of three. Her body was found on the beach in Rocky Point.
Scruggs is now serving a life sentence for his crimes. He's eligible for parole in 2029. He'll be 69.