Somebody’s Lying, But Who?

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.

One comment on “Somebody’s Lying, But Who?

  1. Thomas Hoffman

    This story was published in the Far Rockaway Wave, where Mr. Green denies the defense team had any knolwedge of the supposedly fake tape. Whether the tape is a fake must await a hearing.
    So, What’s The Story?

    Bellamy Case Turns Into Prime Time Soap Opera
    Freed After 14 Years, Faces Return To Prison
    By Howard Schwach
    The case of Kareem Bellamy, the Rockaway man who spent 14 years in prison for a murder he says he did not commit before being freed two months ago, is beginning to look like a bad soap opera, scripted by a writer with a bizarre sensibility.

    Bellamy, center, flanked by attorney Thomas Hoffman (left) and private detective Ed Henson after Bellamy’s release.

    For a neophyte, it’s often tough to follow the bouncing ball.

    There is Bellamy himself, a man who spent fourteen years in jail and who most observers now believe to be innocent of the crime for which he was convicted.

    There is Ed “Black Cloud” Henson, a tough private eye who learned his trade as a housing detective in Rockaway’s public housing complexes.

    There is attorney Thomas Hoffman, so convinced of Bellamy’s innocence that he took his case and spent both time and money to clear a man he had never met until a year ago.

    There is Michael Green, a streetwise Rockaway man who says he falsified a tape that pointed to another man as the murderer because he wanted to “play” Hoffman for a few thousand dollars and because he believes Bellamy to be innocent. Green, who told The Wave this week that he is not an informer and that he never put anybody in jail, now says that he is sorry that he got mixed up in the entire mess and that neither Hoffman nor Henson knew that the tape that got Bellamy out of jail was bogus.

    Kareem Bellamy and his mother, Geraldine, shortly after he was released from prison and returned to Rockaway. A November 16 hearing will determine if Bellamy has to return to prison.

    There is Joe O’Brien, an ex-FBI agent who worked for Hoffman and drew Henson from the detective’s Florida home back to Rockaway in an attempt to clear Bellamy. O’Brien is so sure of Bellamy’s innocence that he put up his own Florida condo as collateral for his bail.

    And, there is Anna Simmons, a mystery woman who told police

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