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Long IslandCrime

Suspect in killing of Queens nurse freed by Nassau, records show

Court records show Danuael Drayton of Brooklyn had been arrested in Nassau County on June 30 and charged with felony second-degree strangulation. But he was released on July 5 over objections by prosecutors.

Danuael Drayton

Danuael Drayton Photo Credit: NCPD

The man suspected of killing a Queens nurse in mid-July was released by a Nassau judge just a few weeks before —though he had been charged with choking his ex-girlfriend and slashing her car's tires.

The Los Angeles Police Department arrested Danuael Drayton of Brooklyn, 27, in North Hollywood on Wednesday, acting on a tip from the NYPD, officials said.

The Office of the District Attorney in Queens said it had issued an arrest warrant for him.

Drayton now faces new charges in Los Angeles of sexually assaulting and trying to kill another woman — who was rescued by the arresting officers, officials said.

The slain nurse was Samantha Stewart, 29, who worked at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, officials said.

Stewart had suffered "trauma to her neck and head" and was pronounced dead in her apartment on July 17, the NYPD said.

Drayton, who was arrested in Nassau on June 30, had been charged with felony second-degree strangulation and misdemeanor third-degree criminal trespass, court records show.

The complaint said on June 13 he strangled an ex-girlfriend, causing her to have "difficulty breathing" and inflicting pain and bruising on her neck, citing the victim's deposition and photographic evidence.

Drayton also sent her a direct message over Facebook, saying "This is just the beginning, first your tires, then I cut your break line, and then I set your car on fire or I blow it up," the complaint says. Looking out the window, the victim saw her car's tires had been slashed, it said.

At Drayton's arraignment on July 1, Nassau prosecutors requested bail of $7,500. Judge Scott Fairgrieve ordered a $2,000 bond or $1,000 cash.

Drayton was held at the Nassau County Correctional Center until he returned to court on July 5, when his Legal Aid Society of Nassau County attorney requested his release.

Judge Erica Prager released him, though prosecutors objected, saying they wanted him to continue to be held on bail. Drayton's attorney was not immediately available for comment.

“How could something like that happen?” Kenneth Stewart, Samantha’s father, told News 12. “There is a failure of the system. Again this is why my daughter is dead today."

“Luckily they were able to catch up with him before another parents lost a loved one,” Kenneth Stewart said. “It's hard, it's hard. I'm trying to make sense of what happened, my daughter shouldn't have died the way she did.”

Drayton previously lived in East Haven, Connecticut, where he was found guilty of felonies — unlawful restraint and violating a protective order — and had faced additional charges, including one for strangulation, that state's court records show.

A spokesman for the Nassau courts said, "There was no way the judge could have known, and the judge didn't know there was an out-of-state criminal history." The judges are not, he added, provided with the FBI report for every case, and the New York State records did not list the Connecticut offenses.

"In this particular case the Judge carefully considered the facts before her and made her determination based on all the current, relevant and factual information that was provided to the Court at that time," he said in a statement. "It would have been impossible for the Judge at that time to foresee the allegations that are presently unfolding and coming to light with regard to this defendant," spokesman Daniel Bagnuola said in a statement.

A spokesman for Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas had no immediate comment on whether her office knew of Drayton's arrest record in Connecticut.

Drayton currently is behind bars in Los Angeles; that city’s prosecutors in a statement said his bail is set at $1.25 million.

NYPD Chief of Detectives Dermot F. Shea told reporters: the "common denominator in these cases — one being a murder and one being a rape — is dating websites." He added: "This individual is known to us and believed by us to be using dating websites to meet women and victimize women." 

Drayton might have hurt more women: "He's off the streets but may have victimized others via online dating sites," Shea said on Twitter on Thursday.

On July 22 and 23, Los Angeles prosecutors said "Drayton allegedly strangled and sexually assaulted the 28-year-old victim and refused to let her leave her apartment after a date." The officers who arrested him freed that woman, the NYPD chief of detectives said on Twitter.

"When we captured Danuael Drayton in LA for the murder of Queens nurse Samantha Stewart, he had another victim held captive," he said.

A spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department, saying the investigation was ongoing, added: "During the arrest of the suspect, a female at the location stated she was a victim of a sexual assault."

Los Angeles prosecutors said Drayton faces one count each of attempted murder, forcible rape, false imprisonment by violence and sexual penetration by foreign object.

If convicted, his maximum sentence would be more than 23 years to life in state prison, they said.

Kerri Scanlon, chief nursing officer at North Shore University Hospital, recalled Stewart as one of the best.

“It’s such a tremendous loss for us, it really is . . . the staff were devastated. We miss her tremendously. She was just a wonderful, wonderful person and a wonderful, wonderful nurse,” Scanlon said.

Stewart, a former teacher, worked in the neurology unit after joining the Northwell Health hospital about a year ago, Scanlon said. “She was very, very proud to be a nurse.”

Scanlon added: “And everyone would describe her — the same word came out of every employee I spoke to — she was so sweet and caring to her patients, just a lovely, lovely person to work with, and also an exceptional clinical nurse . . . but also so compassionate to her patients.”

The NYPD asked members of the public to help locate other victims, urging anyone with information to call 800-577-TIPS and recommending that sexual assault victims contact the rape hotline at 212-267-7273.

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