Christopher Buggs, who was wrongly let go from Rikers in 2021, gets 25 to life for Brooklyn murder
A Brooklyn murder suspect who was mistakenly freed from Rikers Island after an embarrassing clerical error was sentenced to 25 years to life Thursday for the slaying that put him behind bars.
Christopher Buggs, 28, was the target of a month-long manhunt after the March 2021 goof by jail staffers. He was rearrested in the Bronx a month later.
Justice Vincent Del Guidice sentenced Buggs in Brooklyn Supreme Court on Thursday, calling him “a predatory violent felony 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 could have my client’s handcuffs removed?” asked Buggs’ lawyer, Gregory Watts, as the convicted killer wore a gray suit and cuffs.
“No,” replied Del Guidice.
A crude insult Buggs yelled at the judge in 2021 started the chain of events that led to Buggs’ mistaken release.
“Suck my d—k, you f-----g f----t,” Buggs shouted after Del Guidice shot down a bail application in February 2021. The judge held him in contempt, and Buggs hollered back: “F—k about no contempt, n-----s. Suck my d—k.”
Del Guidice hit Buggs with two 30-day contempt of court sentences, and the lesser sentence on the minor charge was wrongly recorded as the resolution of his murder arrest, leading to Buggs’ release, according to law enforcement sources.
“I want to place on the record I hold no malice,” Del Guidice said Thursday. He said he understood “the somewhat salty language directed toward the court” sparked the messy episode, but added, “I certainly don’t hold it against him that the Department of Correction let him out, that’s not his fault.”
Buggs’ lawyer said his client did not flee, and was spotted at a restaurant in the Bronx by members of the Fugitive Task Force.
He also said the Department of Correction singled him out for punishment after they let him go.
“They proceeded to terrorize him. Why? Because of their own mistake,” Watts alleged.
Watts contended that the decks have been stacked against his client for years.
“He was accused of a crime at 12 years old,” he said. “Placed in a juvenile center at 12 years old. He got out, had counseling for a period, then it stopped.”
“His life kind of spiraled out of control,” said Watts. “Mr. Buggs, In his own wisdom, immature way, decided he was going to live a life on the streets.”
“I don’t think he ever got the assistance he needed to put the brakes on” his way of life, Watts said.
Both Watts and Buggs said that no one testified during the trial that he was the shooter in Brownlee’s killing, and Watts said that his client was shortchanged by a less than enthusiastic jury that made a decision after they were initially hung.
“First and foremost, I send my condolences and apologies to the family of the deceased,” Buggs told the judge. “Throughout this trial it hasn’t been established who killed Mr. Brownlee.”
Buggs said he has learned and matured during the five years since his arrest
“I don’t think that 25 years or a life sentence is going to make me … it will make me a better person, but I don’t think I need that to become a better person,” he said.
Assistant District Attorney Cassandra Pond pointed out though that he’s had “multiple chances,” and was on probation at the time of the murder.
“He chose to ambush and murder a man in broad daylight,” said Pond.