A District man who spent more than four years in prison for a slaying he did not commit was awarded $325,000 yesterday by a D.C. Superior Court judge, who said the man's imprisonment "inflicted wounds whose scars he will bear for the rest of his life."
Bradford G. Brown, 38, whose case drew national attention in 1979 when he was released, was awarded the money under the District's Unjust Imprisonment Act that was passed a year later in reaction to Brown's imprisonment. The law allows compensation to be awarded to innocent persons who are wrongly jailed.
Brown is apparently the first person to be awarded money under the law, which -- unlike similar laws in various states -- does not place a cap on the amount of compensation that can be granted.
"No money could ever really compensate someone who is locked up when he is innocent," said James Bensfield, Brown's lawyer. "But I think this certainly goes a long way towards making him whole."
Brown could not be reached for comment yesterday. D.C. Assistant Deputy Corporation Counsel Michael Zielinski said the city will ask today that the verdict be set aside.
"The core fact in the case of Bradford Brown," wrote Judge Ricardo M. Urbina, in a 30-page memorandum of the suit heard in January 1984, "is that he was involuntarily and unjustly thrust into an environment which inflicted wounds whose scars he will bear for the rest of his life. In the process of his ordeal, [Brown] lost several years of his life."
In April 1975, Brown was arrested for murder in the 1974 slaying of a man during a robbery attempt. Brown contended he had been at a birthday party for which he had helped his mother bake a cake. However, a witness had identified Brown through photographs and a police line-up as the man who committed the slaying. Four years later in July 1979, a D.C. detective discovered another man had committed the killing.
In making the award, Urbina cited Brown's severe depression as a result of the imprisonment, the substandard conditions of his prison cells and his continuing psychological difficulties since being released. Reading often like scenes from Kafka, the memorandum described rat-infested cell blocks, two-man cells so small only one person could be out of bed at a time, and maggots falling into plates of food from a dead cat lodged in a ceiling.
Urbina also cited the violence Brown witnessed during his incarceration, which was spent at the D.C. Jail and various facilities at Lorton Reformatory. Urbina said Brown awoke one night when two inmates were stabbed repeatedly.
"At one point in the struggle, both inmates fell on Brown's bed," Urbina wrote. "When he turned on the lights, Brown was soaked with the blood of the stabbed inmates."
Urbina cited Brown's severe depression following his surprise release from prison and difficulty in finding a job. Brown, according to the memorandum, had been in and out of jail before his conviction in the April 1974 killing, but a "trend of rehabilitation seemed in place" at the time of his arrest. At that point, he had assumed full responsibility for the care of his 1 1/2-year-old daughter and had a close relationship with a 9-year-old son who did not live with him.
Following his release from prison, Brown resumed using drugs and was convicted of drug-related offenses, Urbina said, adding that Brown did not appear to be using drugs during the January 1984 hearing in the civil suit. Brown's lawyer said Brown is now working part time.
Brown "fought a losing battle with confusion and depression . . . ," wrote Urbina, and it was Brown's expectation that "he would never be reunited with his family again."