The family of a Queens man who spent 26 years behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit — only to die 14 months after winning his freedom — is suing the city for $100 million.
Ernest “Jaythan” Kendrick was found guilty in 1994 of fatally stabbing Josephine Sanchez, 70, in Astoria’s Ravenswood Houses — but the conviction was based largely on planted evidence, false police reports and the eyewitness testimony of a child who saw the crime from 100 feet away, according to the Brooklyn Federal Court lawsuit.
Kendrick, then 36, was found standing on a nearby street corner hours after the crime. He had no criminal record. He was interrogated for 11 hours and eventually charged — even though he didn’t fit the description of the killer. The killer was described as being 25 to 30 years old and over 6 feet tall wearing sneakers. Kendrick stood only 5-foot-7 and wore shoes.
His case was taken up in 2017 by The Innocence Project, a nonprofit that works to exonerate the wrongfully accused, after a dedicated cousin, Clarence Hughes, spent five years writing letters begging anyone to look into Kendrick’s case.
The conviction, which carried a sentence of 25 years to life, was overturned in November 2020 after a review by the Queens District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit.
The real killer was never caught, Hughes said.
“That’s one of the things Jaythan and I were upset about. Nobody ever went to find out who actually did the crime,” he said.
But the disabled, 63-year-old US Army veteran’s second chance at life was cut short when he died on Jan. 30, 2022.
“He went through a lot of torment,” said Hughes, 52, who recalled how the older man wept at the sight of him during their first visit in prison in 2011.
“Nobody had gone to see him for over five years,” said Hughes. “When I first talked to him I couldn’t understand what he was saying, he was in tears. He was just broken. He didn’t have any hope.”
By the time Kendrick, 63, was released, his parents, grandmother and sister had died. He had no relationship with his only daughter, Hughes said.
“My grandmother, his mama, we just felt like he was railroaded,” Hughes told The Post. “I can’t tell you how many hours I sat in the garage going through his files, looking at the crime scene photos thinking about the trajectory … thinking about [how the killer] wore sneakers; I had never known Jaythan to wear sneakers.”
The months after Kendrick’s release were like “a Vietnam vet coming home,” said Hughes, who noted his cousin’s health struggles after years of prison assaults, which he believes contributed to Kendrick’s death. “He didn’t want to go out of the house, he didn’t want to go out of the room. He was having nightmares.”
The two had always been close: US Marine Corps veteran Hughes lived with Kendrick in Queens for two years, after his 1989 discharge.
“That’s when I helped Jaythan move from The Bronx to Ravenswood, and he helped me start my VA [Veterans Affairs] claim. … He’s the one that showed me how to drive,” Hughes remembered.
Upon his release, Kendrick moved into Hughes’ Atlanta home, where the vindicated man begged his cousin to continue his legal fight.
“He drilled into my head, ‘I want this seen through,’” Hughes said.
The lawsuit accuses the city, the New York Housing Authority, and investigators and prosecutors on the case of negligence.
Housing Police detectives took part in the original investigation, according to the court papers. NYCHA declined comment on the litigation.
“He would cry and be like, ‘They could give me all the money in the bank in New York, and it wouldn’t do anything to take this [pain] away from me,’ ” Hughes said.
Even when Kendrick had a chance at freedom by admitting to the parole board he’d taken part in the murder, he never did, said attorney Thomas Hoffman, who worked on Kendrick’s case.
“He stood up for the truth and did not and would not say he did something that he did not do,” Hoffman said. “And when he stood up for the truth he stood up for everyone.”
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