Ex-Boxer Admits Killing Sportswriter

Times Staff Writer

James Butler Jr. turned to Sam Kellerman when he needed help, and Kellerman gave it, opening up his Hollywood apartment when Butler, a disgraced former boxer, needed a place to stay while training for a comeback.

But on Monday, Butler admitted bludgeoning Kellerman to death in 2004 with a hammer, then setting a fire in the apartment. Prosecutors presented no motive for the slaying and declined to comment before Butler’s sentencing. Butler pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and arson, and is to be sentenced April 5 to 29 years and four months in state prison.

Butler, 33, reportedly suffered from bipolar disorder, and was arrested at UCLA Medical Center, where he had sought psychiatric care, five days after the Oct. 12 slaying.


The two friends were from different worlds but bonded through boxing. Kellerman, 29, came from a noted Manhattan family. A freelance sportswriter, he was a boxing enthusiast whose brother, Max Kellerman, is a radio and TV boxing analyst.

Butler practiced what Kellerman analyzed. Raised in public housing in Harlem, he fought his way to a career as a ranked professional boxer. Butler told police that Kellerman was his “only ally” in life, one who “went to bat” for him in troubled times. In 2004, Butler was struggling to regain his boxing clout.

He had become a notorious figure three years earlier, when he lost a fight to Richard Grant in New York during a benefit for families of police and firefighters killed in the Sept. 11 attacks. When Grant approached Butler to greet him after the match, Butler punched him, sending the crowd into a frenzy of jeers.

Butler told police he flew to Los Angeles in 2004 after Kellerman offered to put him up.

When Kellerman’s family and friends did not hear from him, two of them broke into his apartment through a window Oct. 17. They found him dead on the floor, covered by a bedspread, according to court records. The gas stove was on, the friends told police, and fire investigators found burns on the floor. Police said Kellerman was killed Oct. 12.

Butler initially told police he had found Kellerman dead on the floor when he entered the apartment Oct. 12. He then tried to kill himself by slitting his wrists, he said. He told police that he covered Kellerman’s body with the bedspread because it troubled him to look at the body while he watched TV.

Butler said he walked into a fire station for medical attention the day he found the body and was taken to Queen of Angels-Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center. He then checked into an Alhambra psychiatric hospital and was released three days later, police said.

He returned to the apartment and drove Kellerman’s car to UCLA Medical Center, where he told police he had gone to look for a bipolar support group. He called police from the hospital, and handed the phone to a passerby because he did not know his location. UCLA police arrested him there.