2010-01-29 / Top Stories

Bellamy Defense Happy With Judge’s Decision

By Howard Schwach

Bellamy, center, celebrates with Ed Henson (left) and Joe O’Brien after the decision was made to allow him to remain free pending a new trial for the 1994 Arverne murder of James Abbott. Bellamy, center, celebrates with Ed Henson (left) and Joe O’Brien after the decision was made to allow him to remain free pending a new trial for the 1994 Arverne murder of James Abbott. Kareem Bellamy sat at the defense table in the Queens courtroom, eyes focused on Judge Joel Blumenfeld, the man who was to decide his immediate future, surrounded by his team of public defenders.

“We were on pins and needles,” said his lead defense council, Steven Silberblatt. “There was no way of knowing what he was going to decide, and we had no advance copies of his order. It was very tense at the defense table.”

The judge looked at Silberblatt and asked him how many copies of the decision he was going to need.

“At least one would be nice,” Silberblatt answered, more worried about whether or not his client was going directly from the courtroom back to prison.

Bellamy with his Legal Aid attorney, Steven Silberblatt. Bellamy with his Legal Aid attorney, Steven Silberblatt. Then, Blumenfeld read his decision, and it was soon clear that Bellamy was not going back to prison to serve the rest of his 1995 sentence for depraved indifference murder, but was going to remain free while officials in the Queens District Attorney’s office decided on whether or not they would pursue an appeal. “’Bellamy was ecstatic that he would remain out of prison pending a new trial,” Silberblatt told The Wave. “He went around thanking everybody in-volved in his defense, many of whom were in the courtroom for the decision.”

Bellamy was convicted of the 1994 stabbing death of James Abbott on an Arverne Street.

He was acquitted of murder charges by the jury, but found guilty of depraved indifference murder. He was sentenced to 25 years to life.

Bellamy maintained his innocence in the case and, in 2008, his cause was taken up by attorney Tom Hoffman, who watched a video of Bellamy’s trial and decided that Bellamy was innocent.

He took Bellamy’s case to Cravath, Swaine and Moore, a large law firm that agreed to take the case pro bono.

That firm hired retired FBI agent Joe O’Brien, the man who brought down Mafia big Paul Castellano.

O’Brien, deciding that he did not know the territory, brought in private investigator Ed Henson, who had worked as a housing detective in Rockaway for 20 years.

Henson and O’Brien were in the Edgemere Houses, looking for a lead on Anna Simmons, who had called police a week after the murder and told detectives that two other men, members of the feared “Regulators” gang, had been bragging of killing Abbott.

Detectives recorded her call for their records, but never followed up on the tip. The two private investigators testified in court that a man named Michael Green, whom Henson knew as a snitch, rode up to them on a bicycle and told them that he knew who killed Abbott.

The two met with him and he identified another Rockaway man named Levon “Ishmael” Melvin as the murderer.

Melvin was one of the men named by Anna Simmons in her original call.

Eventually, Green produced a tape that purported to be the voice of Melvin, admitting to the murder.

The tape was put into evidence and, in July 2008, Judge Blumenfeld vacated Bellamy’s conviction and set him free pending a new trial.

Subsequent to that time, the tape was said to be phony, and Green admitted that he made the tape to scam some money from the defense team.

The DA said that the tape was the only reason that Bellamy was set free and urged that he be immediately sent back to prison.

Blumenfeld, however, ordered a hearing and took testimony from those involved.

On January 14, he ordered Bellamy remain free on bail pending a new trial because there was sufficient testimony to show that, had the same information been available to the defense at the original trial, the outcome may well have been different.

The DA immediately appealed Blumenfeld’s decision.

“The appeal process will be a long one,” Silberblatt said, adding that he feels good about Bellamy’s chances on the appeal.

“Blumenfeld’s ruling relied largely on the credibility of witnesses such as Green and Melvin,” he said. “The judge felt they were not credible and it would be unusual for an appeals court to overturn a judge when credibility issues are involved.”

“There was no downside to the DA appealing the ruling,” he added. “If they win, Kareem goes back to prison.” If they lose, they would have to retry him, and no prosecutor wants a 16- year-old case to try. It would be much weaker now, with new evidence.”

Levon Melvin, who still says that he did not kill Abbott and never told Green that he did, says that the court’s decision is “bull____.”

“How can [the judge] say that some of the testimony is false and some is true? It’s just easier to say that I told [Green] [about killing Abbott] than to say that the detectives told [Green].”

Meanwhile, Bellamy remains living in a city shelter on Ward’s Island because his Rockaway apartment was gutted in December by a fire. “He’s really a good guy,” Silberblatt said. “What he needs now more than anything is a stable living environment.”

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