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Queens Man Cleared Of 1995 Murder Conviction

By: Dean Meminger
Updated 09/16/2011 03:24 PM

A judge dismissed today the murder conviction of a Queens man who spent 15 years in prison for a stabbing he has always maintained he did not commit.

Kareem Bellamy was convicted for the 1994 stabbing death of James Abbott Jr. in Far Rockaway, but continued to insist he was innocent.

He was released in 2008, after a review of evidence raised questions over the credibility of witnesses and accuracy of trial testimony.

After being cleared of all charges today, Bellamy said it was the happiest day of his life.

"It hurts, it does. It still hurts because I know I've been exonerated, I'm innocent," said Bellamy. "I'm an innocent man. I had nothing to do with what happened, and if the same evidence was produced back then, I probably would have never got convicted."

A new team of attorneys and investigators took on Bellamy's case in 2004, including a former FBI agent and a former New York City Police Department officer. They said the Queens district attorney's office did not want to listen.

"He was hell bent on keeping Kareem in jail, and I think it was wrong," said former NYPD Officer Ed Henson. "If I didn't think he was innocent I would have never ever been involved in this case."

Lawyers said the most important new evidence was a 2008 confession made to a friend by the man they claimed actually committed the crime. They said the same person confessed shortly after the murder, but it was never properly investigated.

A State Supreme Court judge agreed to grant a new trial, but the district attorney's office told the court that under current laws it could not successfully go to trial and convict Bellamy again.

The district attorney's office reluctantly asked for the case to be tossed out, but not before saying Bellamy was freed by a legal technicality.

"Mr. Bellamy has now be freed from that conviction based on an outright fraud perpetrated against this court. He is not been exonerated," said Queens Assistant District Attorney Brad Leventhal.

"What more proof do they need?" said Bellamy. "They want James to come out of the grave and say 'He didn't kill me,' you know?"

The defense team said dozens of people worked for free on a case that otherwise would have required millions in legal fees, in order to find witnesses and evidence to prove Bellamy was innocent.

"It's not only about Mr. Bellamy, it's about how people got together, saw a just cause and got together to undo this horrific wrong," said attorney Thomas Hoffman.

Bellamy told reporters today that his heart goes out to Abbott's family.

He also said all prisoners who say they are truly innocent should keep pushing forward to prove that, and that his case is evidence it can happen.

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