Letter to the Editor: How Can You Decide How Much Punishment Is Enough?

James Quinn is Senior Executive Assistant District Attorney in the Queens County District Attorney’s Office.  Eagle  file photo by David Brand.

James Quinn is Senior Executive Assistant District Attorney in the Queens County District Attorney’s Office. Eagle file photo by David Brand.

By James C. Quinn

I read the article by David Brand regarding the appeal for clemency of Stanley Bellamy. (“He’s been in Prison for 33 Years. Is that Enough?”, Queens Daily Eagle, Dec. 14, 2018). In an article that took up a full page of newsprint, approximately 1,500 words, the only mention of the crime Mr. Bellamy committed was:

“Bellamy got caught up in crime. In 1985, at age 23, he was charged with murder and sentenced to 62 ½ years in prison”

Not a single word about the victims, and a mere 23 words used to describe why a man was sentenced to 62 ½ years in prison. What was omitted from the article was what he did to deserve that sentence. Here are the facts:

On Oct. 11, 1985, at approximately 9 p.m., Gary Owens, 20 years old, drove his 1978 Cutlass Supreme to the defendant’s home. In the car with Owens, was Dwayne Morrison, also 20 years old. They picked up the defendant, along with Joseph Bellamy and William Riley. William Riley, Joseph Bellamy and the defendant got into the car and sat in the rear seats. They drove around to several locations and eventually Riley, Joseph Bellamy and the defendant got out of the car and stood outside the vehicle talking, while Owens and Morrison stayed in the car. Suddenly, the defendant put a gun to Morrison’s head and threatened to shoot him unless he and Owens did what he told them to do. The defendant ordered Morrison and Owens into the back seat, and Joseph Bellamy joined them, pointing a gun at Owens, while the defendant pointed a gun at Morrison. Riley drove the car. The defendant told Owens and Morrison to turn over all their money and jewelry, threatening to kill them if they did not obey. They complied. Defendant then ripped a medallion off of Owens’ neck.

Riley drove around for 25 minutes, while the defendant threatened to kill Owens and Morrison if they found any additional money on them. Eventually, Riley stopped the car under an overpass in a remote area of Cunningham Park and the defendant ordered Owens and Morrison to get out of the car and stand against a wall, telling them he wanted to frisk them to see if they had any additional money or jewelry on them. Owens and Morrison stood against the wall with their hands raised. Joseph Bellamy walked over to Owens and shot him once in the head at close range. Morrison, upon hearing additional shots ran away. As he ran, he was hit three times in the back and buttocks with bullets. He came upon an ambulance and was taken to the hospital. He survived. Owens died 16 days later from the gunshot to the head. The three defendants drove away in Owens’ car and left it in the parking lot in Cunningham Park.

The defendant was tried before a jury and convicted of, among other things, Murder 2nd degree, Attempted Murder, 2nd degree, and two counts of Robbery in the First Degree. He was sentenced to 25 years to life for the murder and, because he had two prior felony convictions (one for robbery, one for a gun), he was sentenced to 12 ½ to 25 years for the attempted murder and for each of the two robbery convictions, all sentences to run consecutively. His two co-defendants received similar sentences.

The arguments for clemency for the defendant may be legitimate, but any fair article concerning clemency should recount some facts about the crime the defendant is in jail for, and give information about his background, in order to put his 62 ½ year sentence into context. At the very least, the article should give the names of his victims and inform the reader of the terror inflicted on them and of how Mr. Owens died.

At the end of the article there is a note:

“This article is Part One in a series about criminal sentencing and clemency for people convicted of violent crimes.”

I would hope that future articles put in perspective what acts led to the defendant’s incarceration. Yes, Stanley Bellamy has been in prison for 33 years — but Gary Owens’ family has been without him for the same 33 years, and what lasting impact was there on survivor Dwayne Morrison?

The reader may well decide that 33 years is enough, but that should be an informed decision based on a full disclosure of the facts.

James C. Quinn is Senior Executive Assistant District Attorney in the Queens County District Attorney’s Office.