2008-04-04 / Front Page

Fighting For Freedom After 14 Years

By Howard Schwach

After 14 years in prison for a murder he says he didn't commit, a Rockaway man is three months away from a judicial decision that may grant him a new trial and eventual freedom.

The body of James Abbott lies on the street on April 9, 1994. Photo from Wave archive. The body of James Abbott lies on the street on April 9, 1994. Photo from Wave archive. Kareem Bellamy has battled from behind the bars of an upstate prison, to prove that he did not fatally stab James Abbott, known on the street as "Fudd," at Beach 47 Street and Beach Channel Drive on April 9, 1994.

According to a story that appeared on the front page of the April 16, 1994 edition of The Wave, Abbott had just come from the C-Town Supermarket nearby and was carrying two grocery bags when he was accosted by two men and stabbed to death.

According to the story, Abbott suffered multiple stab wounds that severed his aorta and punctured his lungs. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

On May 14, detectives from the 101 Precinct in Far Rockaway picked up Bellamy and questioned him about the murder. He was arrested that same day on charges of murder and criminal possession of a weapon.

Convicted in 1995, mostly on the testimony of eyewitnesses, Bellamy never gave up in his battle to overturn his conviction, constantly maintaining his innocence.

This week, The Wave spoke to a number of people who are now involved in an effort to free Bellamy, because they believe that his conviction was a "travesty of justice."

All of the sources are close to the present case and all requested anonymity because the move to free him is at a "very sensitive juncture" and nobody wanted to anger the judge who will make the final decision on June 27.

"It looks like he might not be the perp at all," said one law enforcement official. "It looks to me like shoddy police work from the outset and a defense counsel who put about 36 hours into the case."

Approximately four years ago, Bellamy began sending letters to "every lawyer in New York State," asking for their help in freeing him from prison.

"In his letter, he said that he was innocent and that he needed help. I get lots of letters like that, and I threw it out," a lawyer who is now involved in the case on a pro bono basis said. "The letter came with a videotape of a 'The System' television show about his trial. I looked at the tape and then took the letter out of the garbage just before the cleaning lady got to it."

"As soon as I saw the tape, I knew there was a problem," the attorney said. "It was troubling."

There were three witnesses at Bellamy's trial, the attorney said.

The first was Angel Carter, a man who was sitting in his wheelchair at a bus stop near the crime scene.

Although detectives did not question Carter the day of the murder, he turned up six weeks later and viewed a lineup that included Bellamy, who was Number One in the line.

According to the attorney, Carter told detectives that he was not sure whether the murderer was Number One or Number Two.

He left the precinct and then came back to say that he was sure that it was Number One, Bellamy. He said that he was confused by the fact that he had braids on the day of the murder, but not at the lineup.

At trial, however, shown the lineup array, he picked not Bellamy, but Number Two. Then, when prosecutors asked him if he saw the murderer in the courtroom, he looked at Bellamy at the defense table and pointed to him.

The lawyer says that investigators recently re-interviewed Carter and he said that he "wanted to get something off his chest, and that it was that he was never sure that the perp was Number One."

The second witness was Linda Sanchez, a cashier at the C-Town market where Abbott had shopped prior to his murder.

On the day of the murder, she reportedly told police that she saw nothing. Ten days later, however, she came to the precinct to say that she saw two people following Abbott around the store.

She said that Bellamy had come back to the store and threatened her if she went to the police.

She identified Bellamy and a friend as the two men whom she saw that day.

The attorney is convinced that Sanchez made up her later testimony because she got "free housing for a year and $500 a month from the DA and then a promise of Section Eight housing."

He says that the fact that she was rewarded for her testimony was kept from defense counsel.

She testified that she saw the murder through the window, but there is testimony that the window was covered with advertising signs that day and that she could not have seen what she testified to at the trial.

"Sanchez was off the wall," the attorney said. "She testified that she remembered Bellamy because he was the only customer she ever had in the store that had braids and the only man who ever bought beer from her twice."

The third witness was Veronica Walker, the attorney said. She testified that she was going to the hairdressers and saw two men following Abbott, but could not identify Bellamy as one of those men.

"On the day they arrested Bellamy, the cops closed the case and never looked for the second man," the attorney said. "I think they did that because they had Kareem for the murder, but knew that he did not do it."

"Ten days after the murder, the cops got a call from a woman who identified herself as Anna Simmons," the attorney said. "She worked in the Laundromat on the same block as C-Town. She told police that the two men, both wearing hoods, who killed Abbott were members of a local gang, not Bellamy or his friend."

She allegedly gave the names of the two gang members to the police and told them details of the murder that were not generally made public. Detectives, however, never followed up on her story, the attorney said.

When asked why they did not follow up on the gang member lead, detectives allegedly told the attorney, "We didn't want to corrupt the investigation and were afraid they would flee."

The attorney is looking for Anna Simmons to testify at the "440 Hearing, "a hearing required under state law to determine whether or not a new trial should be granted. So far, investigators have had little luck in finding Simmons, who would now be 41-yearsold and who had graduated from Far Rockaway High School.

At the trial, detectives said that, as they put Bellamy in their car after they picked him up, he blurted, "What, did somebody say I killed somebody or something?" They looked at that as a confession, or at least an admission that he was involved.

Bellamy said that he spent the day of the murder with a friend named Terrell Lee. When detectives picked Lee up, the attorney said, they gave him the impression that Bellamy had involved him in the murder, and he began to dissemble.

"They scared him so badly, he went on the run, and he's still on the run," the attorney said.

Another witness to the murder, "Mister X" on the detectives' DD-5 reports, states that he saw two men wearing hoods committing the crime and that he called police to report it while it was happening.

The attorney added that Bellamy has passed a lie detector test.

"I'm sure he's innocent," the attorney said. "There was an ineffective defense and scant evidence, but they put him away for life."

Motions for the 440 Hearing are due on May 1 and Judge Blumenfeld will make his decision a month or so later.

All of those involved with the case now believe that Bellamy deserves a new trial, but they are not sure what the outcome will be. "Traditionally, this is an impossible case to win," the attorney said. "We've got the evidence on our side and we think we know who really did it. We'll have to wait and see what the judge rules."

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