2011-09-23 / Top Stories

Bellamy Free After 16 Years

DA Fumes Over Exoneration Ruling
By Howard Schwach

Bellamy stands in the corridor of Queens Supreme Court, awaiting the judge’s ruling on his freedom. Photo by Howard Schwach. Bellamy stands in the corridor of Queens Supreme Court, awaiting the judge’s ruling on his freedom. Photo by Howard Schwach. Kareem Bellamy virtually floated out of Courtroom K-27 at Queens Supreme Court on Friday, accepting the congratulations of his legal “dream team,” and other well-wishers, trailed by a group of reporters and photographers who wanted to record his first minutes of real freedom after 14 years in prison and three years of legal limbo.

On September 16, Supreme Court Justice Joel Blumenfeld dismissed murder charges against Bellamy despite blistering warnings from prosecutors that a killer was being wrongly set free.

“You’re free to resume your life,” Blumenfeld told a tearing-up Kareem Bellamy, 44, who had been locked up from 1995 to 2008 – convicted of knifing a childhood pal to death.

“Get on with your life. Don’t dwell in the past. Make the most of what you’ve got,” the judge said.

The body of James Abbott Jr. lies on the street in Arverne after he was stabbed to death in 1994. Photo from Wave archives. The body of James Abbott Jr. lies on the street in Arverne after he was stabbed to death in 1994. Photo from Wave archives. But prosecutors, who say that they still believe that Bellamy is guilty and that only legal technicalities prevent them from retrying him, called his premature release the real miscarriage of justice. “This is not a case of actual innocence. Mr. Bellamy has now been freed from that conviction based on an outright fraud perpetrated against this court. He has not – I repeat, he has not – been exonerated,” said Assistant District Attorney Brad Leventhal.

Bellamy walked out of Courtroom K- 27 a free man, free from fear of going back to prison and free of the ankle monitor he has been wearing for the past three years.

“Now I get to go to Virginia and try to reconnect with my 21-year-old daughter,” said a thankful Bellamy, who was only 28 when he was sent to prison, leaving his two young children without a father.

Bellamy, left, with ex-NYPD Hosing Detective Ed Henson. Bellamy, left, with ex-NYPD Hosing Detective Ed Henson. “I can’t say thank you enough to the judge and to the justice system,” he said.

Bellamy, now a medical billing student, always maintained that it wasn’t he who stabbed James Abbott Jr. seven times in broad daylight on the corner of Beach 48 Street and Beach Channel Drive on April 9, 1994.

He was convicted in 1995 and sentenced to 25 years to life.

In 2008, retired FBI Agent Joseph O’Brien and ex-NYPD Detective Eddie Henson took on his case pro-bono.

The duo unearthed an audio recording of another man admitting to the crime – evidence that prompted Blumenfeld to free Bellamy from prison in 2008 and order a new trial even though prosecutors maintained the confession was false.

O’Brien even put his own upstate condo up for collateral to secure Bellamy’s bail in 2008. With Friday’s dismissal, O’Brien gets back his condo.

But prosecutors never bought the evidence.

“The sole basis for the vacating this defendant’s 15-year-old conviction by this court was the patently false testimony of Michael Green, a career criminal who received a substantial amount of money from the defense which induced his original hearing testimony and who admittedly told this court he had hoped to receive even more money in the future,” Leventhal said at the trial. At one point, Leventhal contemplated prosecuting O’Brien and Henson for giving Green the information he used to make the false tape.

Green, however, had told The Wave that the two did not know the tape was false until after the judge dismissed Bellamy’s conviction.

Henson excoriated Leventhal after the trial. “After the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Kareem Bellamy, and ordered the Murder conviction vacated, ADA Brad Leventhal took it upon himself to slander Attorney Mr. Tom Hoffman and myself. Leventhal continued his tirade about how a Fraud was perpetrated, and continued his nasty and obnoxious behavior, which in my opinion, and the opinion of many, bordered on criminal, and at the least-unethical,” Henson said. “Leventhal decided to go the lazy route, and refused to conduct a competent investigation. Unfortunately, Brad Leventhal allowed his ego and arrogance to stand in the way of the truth and facts of this case.”

He added, “Judge Blumenfeld listened to over thirty witnesses, and an abundance of evidence, that was never brought out before in the Bellamy Trial / Investigation. Judge Blumenfeld made a very well informed decision based on the facts which resulted in an order to vacate the original Murder conviction. I’m sure that this was not an easy decision for a Judge, and he stood up against the abuse by the DA’s Office for making an Honest and intelligent decision, and for that, I commend him. We should have more Judges like Judge Blumenfeld.”

Blumenfeld ruled that even if the Green tape were false, there was sufficient evidence on the record to warrant a new trial.

That ruling was confirmed by the Second Circuit and then by the Court of Appeals.

Bellamy’s defense team maintains his innocence.

“The truth was on the march and nothing could stop us,” said Thomas Hoffman, the attorney who originally represented Bellamy.

And Bellamy said he never understood why the prosecutors kept gunning for him, even after Blumenfeld said that he deserved a new trial.

“Do they want James to come out of the grave and say, ‘He didn’t kill me?” he asked reporters on the steps of the courthouse after the charges were dismissed.

Then, he went to restart his life and reconnect with his children.

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