June 2011 Volunteer Feature: Evan R. Chesler, of Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP, Successfully Argues Major Criminal Appeal
On May 24, 2011, the Appellate Division, Second Department handed a significant victory to The Legal Aid Society's Criminal Appeals Bureau client, Kareem Bellamy, in his decades-long struggle to overturn his wrongful 1996 Queens County murder conviction. The appellate court affirmed a ruling by Justice Joel Blumenfeld granting Mr. Bellamy's motion for a new trial based upon newly discovered evidence. Evan R. Chesler, Cravath Swaine & Moore's Presiding Partner, argued the case before the Second Department. David Crow of the Criminal Appeals Bureau ("CAB") represented Mr. Bellamy on the appeal, along with pro bono co-counsel Thomas Hoffman, a solo practitioner.
The Legal Aid Society initiated its representation of Mr. Bellamy more than ten years ago on direct appeal through the state court system and then in a federal habeas corpus petition in the Eastern District of New York. When those avenues proved unavailing, pro bono counsel Darin P. McAtee of Cravath and Mr. Hoffman stepped in and spearheaded a thorough reinvestigation of the case in the Far Rockaway community where the homicide occurred. The investigation led to the discovery of a witness to whom the actual perpetrator - a man initially named as a suspect in an undisclosed police report generated at the time of the incident - had confessed. Two contentious evidentiary hearings followed, at which Mr. Bellamy was represented first by Mr. Hoffman and Mr. McAtee and then by The Legal Aid Society's Criminal Defense Practice supervising attorney Steven Silberblatt, assisted by Uchenna Emeaqwali and CAB's Svetlana Kornfeind. In the end, Justice Blumenfeld concluded that the newly discovered evidence would likely have resulted in an acquittal had it been available to Mr. Bellamy's trial jury. The Second Department has now ratified that conclusion.
The case now heads back to the trial court where, if the District Attorney's Office elects to proceed, Mr. Bellamy will finally have his long-desired opportunity to establish his innocence once and for all.