DA Goes To State’s Highest Court On Bellamy Case
Convicted murderer Kareem Bellamy will remain free for the remainder of the summer and perhaps even longer, as the Court of Appeals, New York State’s highest court, takes up an appeal from Queens District Attorney Richard Brown to overturn a May decision that upheld a lower court’s decision to vacate his 1994 murder conviction.
On Wednesday, the Queens DA asked for leave to appeal the lower court’s decision to the higher court, and prosecutors were given until September 27 to make the appeal.
Court officials say that the highest court has the option of hearing the appeal or not.
If they do not take the case, then the lower court decision stands, and Brown has to decide whether or not to retry Bellamy in the face of new information that could show that he did not commit the crime.
Bellamy’s proponents, who speculate that the Court of Appeals will not take the case, say that he is living in Rockaway with relatives and seeking employment.
Bellamy had been in prison up until August of 2008, after being convicted of murder in the second degree and weapons charges in relation to the Arverne stabbing death of James Abbott in 1994.
After a series of events that rival a television soap opera, the state’s Appellate Division for the Second Circuit said that Supreme Court Justice Joel Blumenfeld had made the right decision in vacating the conviction.
“The Supreme Court properly determined that the likely cumulative effect of the newly-discovered evidence, including the informant’s original statements to investigators and counsel concerning Ishmael’s alleged confession, his recantation of those statements and the testimony concerning the faked confession tape would have been a verdict more favorable to the defendant,” the three-member appeals court ruled. “A reasonable jury could find, as the Supreme Court did here, that the informant’s original unsolicited implication of Ishmael was truthful regardless of the informant’s later recantation of those statements. Moreover, the fact that the informant implicated Ishmael and an accomplice, who were the same people implicated on a police report contemporaneous to the homicide, could raise a reasonable doubt in the jurors’ minds, especially given the less than overwhelming evidence against the defendant at trial.”
At Wednesday’s hearing, Brown could have ordered a retrial or allowed Bellamy to go free, rather than asking for a reversal of the appellate court’s decision.
Bellamy’s public defender, Steve Silberblatt, thinks that forcing a new trial would not be in anybody’s best interests.
“It is hard to believe that taxpayers’ money would be well-spent in pursuing a new trial,” Silberblatt added. “But it is their right to retry. That the DA is pushing all out to maintain the guilty verdict, to me, is pure vanity.”
Detective Ed Henson, who first turned over the new evidence that pointed to another killer, thinks that the DA will “try and save face” in the light of the decision and say that Bellamy can’t be retried.
In July of 2008, Blumenfeld vacated Bellamy’s conviction because the court was provided with new evidence that pointed to the guilt of another man, Levon (Ishmael) Melvin, in the stabbing murder.
At the time of the appearance of the new evidence, which was in the form of a tape that was purported to be the voice of Melvin admitting to a Rockaway murder on that date, Brown said, “The sole basis for the court’s setting aside the defendant’s conviction was a recorded conversation proffered by the defense, which purported to be between a defense witness and a third party, in which the third party confessed to having stabbed the victim – the crime for which the defendant was convicted.”
In mid-August of 2008, Judge Blumenfeld released Bellamy from jail pending a new trial.
But the informant who provided the tape to defense lawyer Thomas Hoffman and private detective Ed Henson had since told authorities in the Queens District Attorney’s office that he staged the recording “to create false evidence because I was paid thousands of dollars by the attorneys for Kareem Bellamy.”
Since that time, the Bellamy case has taken many twists and turns.
Charges and counter-charges have been made by prosecutors; by Michael Green, the man who made the tape; by Melvin, who detectives investigating the crime fifteen years ago thought might have been involved, and whom Green implicated as the murderer on the now-infamous tape; by prosecutor Brad Leventhal, who had accused Hoffman and Henson of feeding Green information about Melvin to make the phony tape; and by Hoffman and Henson, who say they had no knowledge that the tape was bogus until after Bellamy was released.