The New York Times reports a truly bizarre tale in the case of Kareem Bellamy, who was released by Judge Joel Blumenfeld in Queens Supreme after a tape of another man confessing to the murder for which Bellamy convicted set him free. The problem is that the tape is a fraud, as everyone now concedes.
Roughly four months ago, a judge vacated Mr. Bellamy’s conviction after the defense produced an audiotape in which another man confessed to the crime. In mid-August, the judge, Justice Joel L. Blumenfeld, released Mr. Bellamy on bail, pending a new trial.
But the informant who supplied the tape has since told the authorities that he staged the recording to “create this false evidence because I was paid thousands of dollars by the attorneys for Kareem Bellamy.” Mr. Bellamy’s lawyers acknowledged in court on Friday that the tape was fraudulent, but said they did not know it was fake when they received it.
Bellamy’s lawyer, Thomas Hoffman, together with a team from Cravath, Swaine & Moore, deny that they paid anyone to fabricate a tape. But Hoffman explains that they didn’t even know about the existence of Michael Green, who claims his friend, Levon Melvin, supposedly confessed to the murder, until Green came to them.
In an interview after the hearing, Mr. Hoffman denied that he paid Mr. Green to create the tape. In fact, Mr. Hoffman said, the defense team did not know who Mr. Green was until he went to one of Mr. Hoffman’s private investigators and said that a friend, Mr. Melvin, confessed to the murder.
The prosecution never verified the tape when it first came to light because Melvin was a suspect in a murder.
Prosecutors have always been skeptical of the tape, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office said. They did not try to verify it before the murder conviction was vacated because the tape had made Mr. Melvin a suspect in the murder, the spokesman said.
But after Bellamy was freed based on the tape, Melvin found out from the New York Law Journal that he was supposedly the person who confessed to the murder. He wasn’t pleased.
After Justice Blumenfeld vacated the conviction, Mr. Melvin learned from an article in The New York Law Journal that he had been mentioned as the confessed killer, prosecutors said. His lawyer contacted the district attorney’s office, prosecutors said, and said that Mr. Melvin had not killed Mr. Abbott and that he had never made a confession.
So what to do with this mess now? With the prosecution screaming bloody murder, Judge Blumenfeld held firm in not resorting to the knee-jerk reaction of blaming the defendant, Bellamy, for whatever went on here. In response to ADA Brad A. Leventhal’s demands that he reinstate the verdict and send Bellamy back to prison, the judge responded:
“No fraud has been proven yet,” Justice Blumenfeld said. “We haven’t had a hearing.”
And with certainty about who they want to get, as opposed to who engaged in wrongdoing, the prosecution picked its side.
Mr. Leventhal said the district attorney’s office planned to give Mr. Green immunity for testifying that he had fabricated the tape. He could have faced perjury charges.
Apparently, Leventhal has decided that he would much rather blame Hoffman and the defense, relying upon Green’s claims that he was paid thousands to fabricate a tape, then consider that Green pulled off a scam on the bunch of them.
While it’s possible that Green is telling the truth (at least now), it’s certainly not the likely explanation for this scenario. Odd that Leventhal would prefer to side with Green over Hoffman and Cravath. And maybe Bellamy has something to say about this?
And of course, none of this does much to answer the question of what to do about Kareem Bellamy, whose conviction was vacated and released based upon bad evidence. But if people can be convicted and remain imprisoned on bad evidence, as a product of waiver or procedural defects, it will be interesting to see whether this will be a two-way street.