Murderer Belton Brims Loses Appeal

Murderer Belton Brims has lost a bid to vacate his New York prison sentence of 75 years to life for killing Arnold and Elaine Sohn in 1980 and escaping from the then-delapidated county jail in New City.

Acting state Supreme Court Justice Catherine Bartlett denied Brims’ bid for a new hearing, siding with the Rockland District Attorney’s Office’s position that the former Spring Valley man’s contentions lacked merit.

The couple’s daughter, Sheryl Sohn, set up a robbery to repay a drug debt to Brims, a Spring Valley thug and drug dealer known as Panama. Sohn left a door unlocked to her family’s Jill Lane home so Brims could enter and steal $30,000 in heirlooms and jewelry. Sohn had her eye on her grandmother’s heirloom ring.

The Sohns came home unexpectedly early from a holiday party on Dec. 29, 1980. Brims and James Sheffield beat them and drowned Elaine Sohn in the bath tub.

Sheryl Sohn served 26 years of a sentence of 25 years to life for her role in the murder of her parents, being paroled in December 2006.

Brims, now 55, not the first member of his family to be imprisoned, also robbed a gas station in New Jersey. His New Jersey sentence could end between December 2009 and April 2018.

When released, he goes straight to New York to serve 50 years to life for the double murder of the Sohns and 25 years for escaping from the county jail. He escaped from the jail by sawing off the bars and made his way to Selma, Ala., where poiice captured him.

In court papers filed in state Supreme Court in Rockland, Brims argued his New York sentences should run concurrent to his New Jersey sentence because he began serving his New York jail term first.

Brims also claimed his escape conviction should be vacated because he was only “on loan” to New York for the murder trial during his New Jersey sentence, so his escape was technically from New Jersey custody.

Bartlett agreed with the Rockland District Attorney’s Office that Brims’ arguments were meritless. She denied his motion for a new hearing.

Prosecutors argued Brims sseparate convictions in New York and New Jersey should run consecutively, as originally ordered by the judge.

Regardless of the outcome of this case, Brims can’t become eligible for parole until 2055 for the murder and escape convictions.

Sheffield is working off a 52-year sentence for the double murder. He fled the night of the Sohn killings, and later talked his way out of police custody in New Jersey and Toronto. He was eventually captured in California and returned to Rockland.

Rockland District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said today that Brims will never be released from prison.

“This important victory will keep Mr. Brims behind bars, where he belongs, for the rest of his life,” Zugibe said.

Steve Lieberman

Steve Lieberman joined The Journal News as an editor in February 1984 and became a reporter during the spring of 1986. He has covered police, courts and legal issues for more than a decade, after reporting on county, town, village and state governments and general issues. He received more than a dozen state awards for writing and reporting. Born and raised in The Bronx, he has lived in Rockland since 1988.