Bellamy Sues City For Prosecutorial Misconduct
A Rockaway resident who spent 14 years in jail before his depraved indifference murder conviction was thrown out in September of last year, has sued the city and a number of former police officers for prosecutorial misconduct in relation to his case.
The 140 page brief, filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District on March 1 by his attorney, Thomas Hoffman, charges, “There was never any evidence connecting Mr. Bellamy to the April 9, 1994 murder of James Abbott, Jr. Mr. Bellamy’s wrongful conviction was induced by two rogue detectives who through coercion and intimidation manipulated each of the prosecutor’s fact witness and key pieces of evidence to frame Mr. Bellamy.
“Evidence pointing away from Mr. Bellamy was suppressed. Leads to two suspects who were identified as Mr. Abbott’s murderers were not investigated. The detectives’ nefarious conduct could not have been accomplished without police supervisors who looked the other way and who ignored standard police practice that safeguards the integrity of an investigation.
“The trial prosecutor, without fear of reprimand or discipline, in an atmosphere of impunity and a climate in which winning is everything, disregarded his duty as a representative of the citizens of New York to justice and seek the truth and instead engaged in a shockingly egregious summation. As a result of the willful actions of the defendants, or of their deliberate indifference to his right to a fair trial, Mr. Bellamy suffered the catastrophic loss of his liberty for fourteen years and three months.”
The suit names the City of New York, former detectives John J. Gillen and Michael Solomeno and two John Doe “supervising officers” at the NYPD’s 101 Precinct as defendants.
Both of the detectives and the Queens District Attorney were served in recent days.
The city has asked for additional time, until May 22, to answer the complaint, and the court has granted the date.
Hoffman was a member of the pro bono team of lawyers and private detectives that helped clear Bellamy’s name and helped him retrieve his freedom.
The suit charges that the two detectives focused on Bellamy from the first, ignoring a report that was phoned to the precinct by a woman named Anna Simmons who said that she overheard two other men, identified as members of the notorious “Regulators” gang, talk about “snuffing” Abbott.
Neither of the two men was ever interviewed by the detectives and Simmons eventually disappeared and remains unavailable to this day.
The suit also alleges that the detectives coerced witnesses to change their testimony to make it look as if Bellamy was guilty.
The trial was filmed for a television series on cable TV called “The System,” which focused on Rockaway and its crime problems.
On that program, David Guy, the prosecutor, said that he was “losing his case” because of weak witnesses. He said that he was going to have to present a great summation in order to win his case.
Hoffman calls that summation “over the top” and way beyond the bounds of what is typically allowed in a summation. He argues that prosecutors were allowed a wide latitude by the actions of Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, who, Hoffman says, “never reprimanded or disciplined an assistant district attorney for his or her actions in court.”
Prosecutors are held safe by state law against any lawsuits in relation to their public duties, so the prosecutor cannot be sued for his actions in the courtroom.
On September 16 of last year, 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.
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, 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. Upon Bellamy’s dismissal, O’Brien got back his condo.
But prosecutors never bought the evidence.
“The sole basis for 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 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.