A man, who pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the 2013 shooting death of 21-year-old Kelsie Monin in what an attorney called a “drug deal gone bad,” is asking the court to consider he had poor counsel and to reexamine his prison sentence.
“My case wasn’t fought. Point blank. Period,” said 24-year-old Michael De Vonte Bellamy at a post-conviction relief hearing Tuesday in an Horry County courtroom.
Bellamy was one of three men charged with murder in Monin’s death. He says he only took a plea deal in the case because he was told he faced life in prison without it.
Brandon James Littell, 23, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Diquan Johnson, who was 17 at the time, but was tried as an adult, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Bellamy got 25 years.
Assistant Attorney General Johnny James, Jr., told the court that Bellamy never appealed his plea or his sentence and missed the deadline to argue much of a case for post-conviction relief.
Bellamy is currently housed at Lieber Correctional Institute where, he says, the inmates remain in a state of almost perpetual lockdown, which, he said, hindered his review of his case. After he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to prison, he said, he didn’t learn of his right to request post-conviction relief until he heard it from another inmate.
Bellamy says he wrote to his attorney, after his conviction, “and didn’t get anything back. ...Then I started looking into the case myself and I realized I wanted to fight this and I actually do have somewhat of a chance now.”
But Bellamy couldn’t tell the court exactly when he sent a letter to his lawyer seeking an appeal of his sentence.
He filed an application for post-conviction relief in March, 2016 - more than a year after his conviction.
His trial lawyer, Barbara Wilson Pratt, says she never received a letter from Bellamy so she didn’t file an appeal, but she remembers advising him of his right to appeal after his conviction.
“I remember telling him that it’s difficult to appeal a guilty plea, because you have to have a valid reason for that,” she said, adding that she usually tells clients they can apply for post-convition relief. She couldn’t remember if she told Bellamy, specifically.
Police were called to the shooting on Old Crane Road around 4 p.m. on June 12, 2013. Officers found Monin on the dirt road, dead from a gunshot wound. Another man, who said he was also shot, called police from a nearby gas station.
“I went over there to go sell some marijuana. Whatever happened after that, I can’t control the next person,” Bellamy said.
“We had talked about the hand of one is the hand of all and ... I believe he understood that if there was a murder that he would be responsible in that regard, as well,” Pratt told the court.
Bellamy said he was told he was going to get life in prison and his co-defendants would be testifying against him if he didn’t take the plea and admit the deal also involved a pre-planned armed robbery.
“I truly believed that cause one of my co-defendants just got life. Of course he would have reason to testify,” he said.
Consulting her notes from that day, Pratt said Bellamy told her he understood the plea arrangement and admitted the armed robbery that led to Monin’s death was planned ahead of time. The admission was backed up by another co-defendant, she said.
Judge William Seals, Jr., said he would rule on the case later this week.
As of now, Bellamy will be eligible for release in 2034.