Clemency Advocates Hope Cuomo Grants Freedom to Rehabilitated Inmates

Stanley “Jamel” Bellamy earned his associate’s degree in prison and is now pursuing a bachelor’s degree in sociology. Photos courtesy of Bahar Ansari.

Stanley “Jamel” Bellamy earned his associate’s degree in prison and is now pursuing a bachelor’s degree in sociology. Photos courtesy of Bahar Ansari.

By David Brand

Stanley “Jamel” Bellamy’s clemency application package is 346 pages long and features six sections. It includes a 23-page narrative, 32 letters of support and almost 80 certificates and letters of achievement that Bellamy has earned during his 33 years behind bars. Bellamy was convicted of murder in 1985.

The package took a year to compile and involved countless hours of research, investigation and outreach. Last week, Bellamy’s attorneys Bahar Ansari and Tajuana Johnson, both professors at CUNY Law, submitted the package to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Clemency Board through the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and Families Against Mandatory Minimums State Clemency Project.

“The level of mitigation that goes into these cases is huge,” Ansari said. “You’re talking to everybody, figuring out what was going in the client’s life, what circumstances led them to this life. And without clemency, it’s death by incarceration. So clemency is their last shot.”

Despite all of Bellamy’s introspection and the hard work of his attorneys and students at the CUNY Law Criminal Defense Clinic, there is no guarantee that the Clemency Board will even consider Bellamy’s application. And there’s a very slim chance that Cuomo will ultimately grant him clemency through a program that is, in part, designed to reconsider the long prison sentences imposed on thousands of New Yorkers.

Cuomo has not granted a clemency application since he issued a handful of pardons and commutations one year ago.

On Dec. 27, 2017, Cuomo announced pardons for 18 immigrants facing deportation and 39 people convicted for misdemeanors and non-violent crimes when they were 16 or 17. Cuomo also commuted sentences for two people who he said “demonstrated substantial evidence of rehabilitation.”

"These New Yorkers have proved their rehabilitation, in some cases for decades, but have been unable to gain legal status or fully reenter society due to the stigma of conviction," Cuomo said. "[T]hese actions take a critical step toward a more just, more fair and more compassionate New York."

Cuomo’s office did not respond to request for comment about Bellamy’s case or about clemency decisions.

Under a 2015 measure, incarcerated New Yorkers are eligible for clemency through reprieves, commutations and pardons issued by Cuomo. The measure established the Executive Clemency Board to review applications and recommend commutations or pardons to Cuomo.

CUNY Criminal Defense Clinic professors and students hope Cuomo will recognize the transformation made by Bellamy and the other clients, including a man named Ulysses Boyd, who they have helped apply for clemency after decades behind bars.

“Everyone is worthy of reconsideration,” said Criminal Defense Clinic co-director Nicole Smith. “Everyone should have a chance to have their case looked at again.”

Bellamy, who grew up in Corona, was convicted of murder in 1985 and sentenced to 62 1/2 years in prison. He is not eligible for parole until 2048, when he will be 86 years old.

The assistant district attorney who prosecuted Bellamy 33 years ago has died. So has the judge who sentenced him to a virtual life sentence. Bellamy’s former defense attorney resides in an assisted living facility. All three circumstances hint at the length of time Bellamy has spent behind bars, Ansari said.

Bellamy has, by all accounts, transformed his life, becoming a mentor and leader among his peers, Ansari and Johnson said.

He was a member of the Resurrection Study Group, created the first computer literacy program run by incarcerated men and co-founded the Civic Duty Initiative, which helped organize the first-ever New York State Prisoner's gun buy-back program. Bellamy also created a re-entry curriculum for his incarcerated peers and organized parenting workshops. He earned his associate degree and will earn his bachelor’s degree from St. Thomas Aquinas College in May 2019.

Bellamy’s achievements have served as inspiration to his attorneys, his college professors and his friends, Ansari said. She said she, Bellamy and her colleagues attempted to convey that in the application but lacked a clear blueprint.

“To do a really good application you have to [continuously] talk to the client and send them prompts, help them dig deeper, reflect, craft a personal statement,” Ansari said. “You’re developing a relationship, asking intense questions that you want to gather, but you can’t just go into the first meeting and delve into traumatic experiences. It does take a lot of phone calls and visits … and the clients are usually in prisons near the Canadian border.”

Many people still balk at the notion of clemency for violent offenders, however. To members of the CUNY Criminal Defense Clinic and other clemency advocates, everyone deserves to have their circumstances considered, Ansari said — especially since roughly 20 percent of New York’s incarcerated population are serving life sentences or virtual life sentences.

Ansari said she also attempted to track down family members of the victim but was unable to find them because so much time had passed.

While crafting his personal narrative — what Ansari called “the heart” of his 346-page application — Bellamy, 56, reflected on his crime and the last three decades in upstate prisons, where he organized groups, led jailhouse clean-up initiatives and earned a college diploma. Writing the memoir proved difficult for Bellamy — and not because he had to do on a typewriter.

“Everything I’ve gotten involved in was to help other guys,” he said. “They ask me what can I do and I say ‘Don’t come back.’”

Ansari said that despite his many accomplishments, Bellamy is a not “self-promoter.”

“You hope that the narrative you’re putting out there highlights the narrative of redemption and not just the terrible crime.” Ansari said. “We’re not ignoring the crime, it’s big part of person’s story, but what we’re trying to convince people is that people can change.”

Ulysses Boyd, 63, is another candidate for clemency who has worked with professors and students at the CUNY Law Defense Clinic, including Smith. The clinic submitted Boyd’s application in April and the Clemency Board recently reached out to Smith for more information.

Boyd was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 50 years to life in prison in 1987. He was involved in a fatal fight inside a home used to make crack cocaine, according to court documents.

Over the past three decades, however, Boyd has demonstrated remorse and undergone profound changes, Smith said. 

“At 63 years old Mr. Boyd has truly transformed,” Smith said. “He takes full responsibility for his role in the crimes he committed and the harm he has caused. Mr. Boyd's remorse has motivated his dedication to improving himself and the lives of others.”

Five students worked on his application, noting the work he has performed on behalf of sick and dying incarcerated people, his leadership in de-escalation and anti-violence trainings and his role in the law library, where he helps people prepare for re-entry, she said.

As with Bellamy, Boyd is a prime candidate for clemency because of how he has demonstrated the capacity for rehabilitation, Smith continued.

“We’ve made some progress about how we think about punishment, but we have a long way to go,” Smith said. “We want to show that this is a person worthy of redemption and perhaps the governor, who has this awesome power, should use that power to bestow mercy.”