Melvin Alaeze — Rivals’ No. 4 overall recruit from the Class of 2005 — sits in a prison cell in Cumberland, MD, serving his sixth year in an eight-year prison sentence for first-degree assault.
But even with “just” two years to go, Alaeze’s lawyer, Andrew Ucheomumu, insists that his client has been wrongfully imprisoned.
Following his arrest in January 2007, Alaeze (uh-LAZY) plead guilty to the armed robbery and near-shooting death of Princeton Macer that had taken place the month before. But only after Ucheomumu claims Alaeze was duped by his then-lawyer, Kevin Kamenetz, to enter the plea.
“Mr. Kamenetz failed to comprehend that there was no fact to support the element of first-degree assault,” Ucheomumu said in July 2010 during a motion to drop Alaeze’s guilty plea. “But for the erroneous advice of Mr. Kamenetz, I submit to you that Mr. Alaeze would not be here today.”
Whether Alaeze is truly guilty of the crime he is currently imprisoned for doesn’t change his status as a college football cautionary tale. Rivals ranked him the biggest college football recruiting bust since 2001.
Coming out of Randallstown, MD, Alaeze had his pick of powerhouse college football programs to attend. A 6-foot-3, 277-pound specimen of a defensive lineman, he had scholarship offers from USC, Virginia Tech, Miami (FL) and Penn State.
Rather than join any of those blue bloods, Alaeze held up his verbal commitment to Ralph Friedgen and signed locally with the University of Maryland. But sadly, Alaeze never played a down in college.
First came his failure to qualify academically for the 2005 season, which forced him to spend a year at Hargrave (VA) Military Academy. Then, in February 2006, he was charged with intent to distribute marijuana, leading Maryland to release him from his scholarship on account of Alaeze violating the terms of his financial aid.
He landed at Illinois for the 2006 season as part of then-head coach Ron Zook’s influence of talent from the Beltway. Alas, he never played a down for the Illini after he was suspended from the team for missing classes, leading to the revoking of his scholarship.
Then came the night of Christmas Eve 2006, as reported by the Baltimore Sun in 2010 after Alaeze made a motion to drop his plea:
“Princeton Macer told police he had been robbed by two men — one of whom he identified as Alaeze, known to friends as ‘Gooch’ — and then shot in the head, back and near the left eye with a .22-caliber handgun, according to charging documents.
When police pulled over a Pontiac SUV driven by Alaeze, they found behind the driver’s seat a revolver with four empty .22-caliber shell casings and a bullet in the chamber, court papers said. Alaeze was carrying a folding knife with a 6-inch blade. He was arrested and held on $500,000 bail.
Alaeze was charged with 11 counts, including attempted first-degree murder, armed robbery and first-degree assault, and Kamenetz negotiated a deal under which his client pleaded guilty only to the assault charge.
But Ucheomumu said in court … that Kamenetz had failed to inform his client ‘of the nature of the charges’ and had made ‘false promises’ to the effect that, if Alaeze pleaded guilty to the single count, he would be sentenced to time served and be released.”
“The family made a mistake in their selection of the lawyer,” Ucheomumu said over the phone from his offices in Bethesda, MD. “They wanted a politically-connected lawyer but should have gotten what Melvin needed: A solid, undistracted criminal attorney who had the time and resources to do nothing but help Melvin get acquitted.”
At the time that Melvin was charged with assault, Kamanetz was both a lawyer and serving his fourth term as a County Councilman representing the Second District of Baltimore County. Ucheomumu argues that Kamanetz lacked the time to prepare an adequate defense on Alaeze’s behalf and that his political ambitions — he later ran for and won the position of Baltimore County Executive — made him wary of representing a criminal defendant.
Ucheomumu doesn’t spend the bulk of his time blaming Kamanetz for a shoddy defense. Rather, he focuses on maintainining his client’s innocence.
“Nobody can link him to the crime other than that he was present,” Ucheomumu said. “Being present isn’t enough to make a person criminally liable, and Melvin was not charged with conspiracy.”
According to Ucheomumu, it was Alaeze’s accomplice who shot and nearly killed Macer. In fact, said Ucheomumu, it was Alaeze who prevented his friend from “finishing Mercer off,” putting the .22-caliber handgun used in the shooting into his pocket and allowing Macer to escape and survive the shooting.
Whether Alaeze is released before the end of his sentence won’t alter Ucheomumu’s to clear his client’s name – or Alaeze’s hope that there’s still time to fulfill the promise he had as a teenager.
“Melvin is ready to play, he’s physically in top shape,” Ucheomumu said, citing Michael Vick as an example of a player to play in the NFL after incarceration.
A better example might be Marcus Dixon, the onetime Vanderbilt recruit who spent 15 months in prison on “aggravated molestation” charges involving an underage girl. When the charges were overturned, Dixon enrolled at Hampton on a football scholarship and eventually made it to the NFL (he spent the 2010-12 seasons with the New York Jets).
In his mind and his lawyer’s, there’s plenty of time for this 25-year-old cautionary tale to rewrite his narrative into a comeback story.