A Brooklyn murder suspect who was mistakenly released from Rikers Island after an embarrassing clerical error was sentenced Thursday to 25 years to life in prison for the murder that put him behind bars.
Christopher Buggs, 28, was the subject of a month-long manhunt after the March 2021 botch by jail staff. He was arrested again in the Bronx a month later.
Judge Vincent Del Guidice sentenced Buggs in Brooklyn Supreme Court on Thursday as a “violent predatory offender,” two months after a jury found him guilty of the murder of Ernest Brownlee.
The 55-year-old victim was about to eat a plate of pepper steak with rice and beans from a Brooklyn deli when he was shot in the chest in January 2018.
“Is there any way I can remove the handcuffs from my client?” asked Buggs’ lawyer, Gregory Watts, as the convicted murderer wore a gray suit and cuffs.
“No,” replied Del Guidice.
A rude insult Buggs yelled at the judge in 2021 started the chain of events that led to Buggs’ wrongful release.
“Suck my b**ch, f—–g f—-t,” Buggs yelled after Del Guidice rejected a bail request in February 2021. The judge held him in contempt, and Buggs fired back at him. : “F–k about contempt, n—–s. Suck my bitch.”
Del Guidice hit Buggs with two 30-day contempt-of-court sentences, and the lesser sentence on the lesser charge was mistakenly recorded as the resolution of his murder arrest, leading to Buggs’ release, according to law enforcement sources.
“I want to put on record that I have no malice,” Del Guidice said Thursday. He said he understood that “somewhat salty language directed towards the court” led to the messy episode, but added: “I certainly don’t blame him for the Department of Correction letting him out, it’s not his fault.”
Buggs’ attorney said his client did not flee and was seen at a restaurant in the Bronx by members of the Fugitive Task Force.
He also said that the Department of Correction singled him out for punishment after he was let go.
“They proceeded to terrorize him. Because? By his own mistake,” Watts alleged.
Watts maintained that the decks have been stacked against his client for years.
“He was charged with a crime at the age of 12,” she said. “Admitted to a center for minors at the age of 12. He got out, had counseling for a period, then stopped.”
“Her life spiraled out of control,” Watts said. “Mr. Buggs, in his own wisdom, immaturely, he decided that he was going to live a life on the streets.”
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“I don’t think he ever got the help he needed to curb” his lifestyle, Watts said.
Both Watts and Buggs said no one testified during the trial that he was the shooter in the Brownlee murder, and Watts said his client was swindled by a half-hearted jury who made a decision after they were initially hanged.
“First of all, I send my condolences and apologies to the family of the deceased,” Buggs told the judge. “Throughout this trial it has not been established who killed Mr. Brownlee.”
Buggs said he has learned and matured in the five years since his arrest.
“I don’t think 25 years or a life sentence will make me…make me a better person, but I don’t think I need that to make me a better person,” he said.
However, Assistant District Attorney Cassandra Pond noted that he has had “multiple opportunities” and was on probation at the time of the murder.
“He chose to ambush and kill a man in broad daylight,” Pond said.