Boxer James “The Harlem Hammer” Butler, Harlem NY, 1972-

May 26, 2016

the-harlem-hammerJames Butler Jr., born December 18, 1972 in Harlem, New York, is an American former light heavyweight boxer, former USBA super middleweight champion. In early 2001 he had a career record of 20-5-0, with 12 wins coming by way of knockout, and was nicknamed “The Harlem Hammer”. On November 23, 2001, Butler punched a fellow boxer, Richard “The Alien” Grant, after losing a fight, for which he was arrested and charged with aggravated assault. Butler was later convicted and served four months at Riker’s Island detention facility. In 2004, Butler was arrested for the murder of Sam Kellerman with a hammer and the arson of his home and, in 2006, was sentenced to 29 years and four months in prison.

Butler started off his career by scoring 18 wins and only 1 loss in the super middleweight division. This led to a title fight against Sven Ottke who beat Butler by unanimous decision.

Butler’s next bout earned him infamy on November 23, 2001 at the Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan, New York. The bout was a charity event to benefit surviving New York firemen and police officers of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and was televised live on ESPN2. After losing by unanimous decision to Richard “The Alien” Grant, Butler had his gloves removed before the announcement of the winner, Grant then went to Butler’s side of the ring for an expected exchange of congratulations. Instead, Butler sucker punched Grant, nailing a bare handed right hook to his jaw. Grant suffered a temporarily dislocated jaw and a lacerated tongue that required 26 stitches. Butler was arrested and charged with aggravated assault. Butler was later convicted and served four months at Riker’s Island detention facility.

Butler’s last bout was a split-decision loss on August 10, 2004 to Omar Sheika.


On October 12, 2004, writer Sam Kellerman, (brother of boxing analyst Max Kellerman), was killed in a homicide but his body was not found until October 17. Butler was considered a suspect; he had been friends with Kellerman for ten years.

On October 20, Butler, accompanied by a lawyer, sought treatment for his alleged bipolar disorder.

Butler was arrested for the Kellerman slaying on October 27. Two days later, he pleaded not guilty to murder and arson. He was held on $1.25 million bail. Prosecutors claimed that Butler, the only suspect in the case, repeatedly struck Kellerman in the head with a hammer then torched Kellerman’s Hollywood, California apartment in an attempted cover-up.


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On July 8, 2005, a Los Angeles judge ruled that there was sufficient evidence for Butler to stand trial on the charges of murder and arson.

On March 27, 2006, Butler pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and arson in the 2004 death of Kellerman. On April 5, Butler was sentenced to 29 years and four months in prison by Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor, according to Deputy Public Defender Jack Keenan.

The suspected motive for the murder was that Kellerman was forcing Butler to move out of Kellerman’s apartment. Butler, who was struggling to revive his career and suffering through a difficult relationship with his girlfriend and child, picked up a hammer and killed Kellerman and then torched his house.

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