Kareem Bellamy Served 14 Years In Prison For A Crime He Didn’t Commit
New York State has moved to right a glaring wrong.
A judge Wednesday officially exonerated a Queens man wrongly convicted of murder and OK’d a $2.75 million settlement, BOSSIP can reveal.
Kareem Bellamy was 28 when he was convicted of stabbing James Abbott Jr. to death on April 9, 1994. The case fell apart after a gang member confessed to the killing, but not before Bellamy served 14 years. In 2011, Bellamy’s charges were dropped.
But Wednesday, New York Court of Claims Judge Alan C. Marin went one step further by approving a $2.75 million settlement.
“I’m feeling good,” Bellamy told BOSSIP shortly after his settlement was reached. “I’m feeling great. It means a lot.”
“I’ve been saying it from the start,” he added. “Today they sent me a good message about my innocence.”
Bellamy and Abbott knew each other from middle school, and cops picked up Bellamy after a witness claimed to have seen him in a supermarket line near Abbott shortly before his murder.
Even though a gang member had earlier confessed to the stabbing, and a main witness couldn’t identify him or describe what the killers looked like, law enforcement pushed ahead with the case. A jury convicted him of “depraved indifference murder,” which carries a 25-years to life sentence.
While he was locked up, Bellamy said he passed the time by praying, going to the library and writing letters to lawyers to convince them to take his case. Criminal defense attorney Thomas Hoffman received one of Bellamy’s letters, and his first instinct was to throw it away. But then he took it out of the trash and contacted Bellamy, eventually agreeing to represent him for 11 the years it took to prove his innocence.
Hoffman said he was astounded that Bellamy turned down several plea deals –even ones that would’ve set him free immediately—because he said his freedom wasn’t as important as clearing his name.
“That’s what makes him so special,” Hoffman told BOSSIP. “He turned down every plea offer when the case was going on…This is why today is such a big day. Today the message was Mr. Bellamy didn’t do it. That’s what Kareem wanted to hear.”
Hoffman and fellow attorney Jonathan Giles’ research found that the detective on the murder, John Gillen, coerced witnesses, doctored notes and outright lied during his investigation. The detective later received a mayoral commendation for his work fingering Bellamy.
Bellamy’s prosecutor, David Guy, meanwhile, got one witness into the Witness Protection Program, where she received $6,000 and got free housing for life after the woman claimed Bellamy threatened her, a contention that has since unraveled. The same man told the jury during Bellamy’s trial: “I know who committed the murder. Don’t let him get away,” Hoffman said.
Neither man has ever faced criminal charges.
We’ve reached out to the Queens District Attorney’s Office for comment.
Bellamy said it’s been hard to begin again after losing so much time. He said what’s hurt him the most was missing out on relationships with his children, who were nine, four and one years old when he was arrested.
“Now it’s very hard to reconnect with them,” Bellamy said. “That’s one of the biggest losses I’ve had.”
Today, Bellamy works as an advocate with the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation For Justice, a nonprofit that supports and advocates for people who are imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit. The foundation helped Bellamy get back on his feet when he got out of prison; giving him a place to stay and helping him get reacquainted with life on the outside.
Deskovic, himself wrongly convicted for rape and murder, said the state must stop letting the exonerated fend for themselves once they get out of prison.
“It takes three to seven years from exoneration to settlement,” Deskovic said. “What if we hadn’t been there?”
Bellamy has also filed a federal civil suit against New York City.
Bellamy’s case highlighted the thousands of wrongfully convicted people believed to be languishing in prison, as well as the difficulty in getting the cases overturned, Hoffman said. The men called for an independent board to examine allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, reviews of wrongful conviction cases citywide and penalties for prosecutors who are doing wrong.
“To be honest, the system, it was bad,” Bellamy said. “But I see more and more guys getting out. I do see change. That’s a good feeling and I’m proud of that.”