Reluctant PI Brought Bellamy Freedom After 14 Years
K areem Bellamy is home today because Ed "Black Cloud" Henson was a housing detective in Rockaway at a time when crime and drugs pervaded the public housing units in Rockaway. Bellamy, who served 14 years for the murder of James Abbott in Rockaway in 1991, a crime that law enforcement officials now say he did not commit, is home this week after being granted bail on Friday, August 15.
Henson was widely known as "Black Cloud" when he patrolled the projects in the 1980s and 1990s, because wherever Henson went the criminals and drug dealers fell under a perpetual black cloud brought on by his detective work.
Henson worked the entire peninsula, from the Redfern Houses in Far Rockaway on the Nassau County border to the Hammel Houses in Rockaway Beach. Back then, housing cops had their own police force, called Public Service Area 9, in Rockaway.
"In my years in Rockaway, I worked more than 200 homicides and thousands of cases. I was a detective and it was my job to bring in the bad guys, to see them in jail."
"I don't do defense work," Henson told The Wave on Monday. "I put guys in jail for 20 years, and I don't want to help them get out [of jail]."
Hoffman, however, was interested in getting Henson involved.
Henson says that when Joe O'Brien, an ex-FBI agent who was hired by Hoffman to prove Bellamy's innocence, called a friend in New York City, that friend told O'Brien that if he wanted somebody who knew Rockaway and had worked the streets there, he should find Black Cloud.
Hoffman did, and was convinced that Henson was the man to work the case.
He was right.
Hoffman convinced Henson to take a look at the case file.
"I got the package and took a look at it," Henson said. "I don't want to demean any other detectives, but it was the worst homicide investigation I ever saw. [The detectives] never looked for other people who were named as suspects, they never looked for an informant, Anna Simmons, who called in and named two other guys for the murder. They had an obligation to follow up on the information and they didn't. There were so many holes in the case against Bellamy that I was amazed."
Henson, intrigued, but still not sure that he wanted to work on the defense case, flew up to New York to meet with Hoffman.
There he saw a tape of Bellamy's trial, which had been shown on Court Television as part of "The System" series.
"Bellamy was in court, screaming that he was innocent. They had to carry him from the courtroom. I've never seen anything like that in my 20 years on the job. It was not normal," Henson says. That sold him on helping O'Brien and Hoffman with Bellamy's case.
He and O'Brien started making the rounds of the Rockaway public housing complexes, touching base with old informants and old arrestees.
"It was our second day, and we were in Edgemere, talking to people and looking for leads," Henson says. "This guy who I knew rode up and told me to meet him at his building. We did, and he gave me [the names of] the two guys who did it, the two guys whose names were in the case folder because Simmons fingered them. They were never picked up, never interrogated."
Henson called Hoffman, and told him, "We just found the evidence to get your guy out of prison."
Henson's informant took a lie detector test and passed, proving to Henson and O'Brien that he was telling the truth.
The informant wore a wire and spoke with one of the men whom he knew as the murderers of Abbott.
According to a New York Times article that was published last month, that murderer is Leon Melvin, a Rockaway man who was angered that his girlfriend had become too cozy with Abbott.
In the tape, which was used to get Bellamy's conviction thrown out in Queens Supreme Court, Melvin confides that he and another man stabbed a third party on Beach 40 Street in Far Rockaway.
While the tape did not name Abbott as the victim, records show that the Abbott murder was the only one at Beach 40 Street that year.
Although a judge has thrown out Bellamy's conviction and granted him bail, a spokesperson for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said that no decision has yet been made on whether or not to retry Bellamy.
Henson, however, says that it would be highly unlikely for a retrial.
"Witnesses have recanted their testimony, others have gone, the detectives who caught the case are either dead or long-retired and there is little chance that they could convict him today," he says.
Bellamy's $150,000 bail payment was made by O'Brien, who put up his co-op in upstate New York as collateral for the bail. He is that sure of Bellamy, Henson said.
The district attorney has reportedly offered Bellamy a deal in which he would plead guilty to manslaughter and be sentenced to time served.
Bellamy turned it down, saying that he never killed anybody.
"Standing up for the truth is more important than my freedom," he reportedly told prosecutors. "If God wants me back in jail, that's the way it would happen."
"But," he added, "I don't think that God wants me there."
Prosecutors are appealing the judge's decision to overturn the verdict.