Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the boxer whose wrongful murder conviction became an international symbol of racial injustice, has died at 76.
John Artis, a longtime friend, said Carter died in his sleep yesterday. Carter had been stricken with prostate cancer in Toronto, the New Jersey native’s adopted home.
Carter spent 19 years in prison for three murders at a tavern in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1966. He was convicted alongside Artis in 1967 and again in a new trial in 1976.
Carter was freed in November 1985 when his convictions were set aside after years of appeals and public advocacy. His ordeal and the alleged racial motivations behind it were publicised in Bob Dylan’s 1975 song Hurricane, several books and a 1999 film starring Denzel Washington, who received an Academy Award nomination.
Carter’s murder convictions abruptly ended his boxing career. Although never a world champion, Carter has a record of 27-12-1 with 19 knockouts, memorably stopping two-division champion Emile Griffith in the first round in 1963. He also fought for a middleweight title in December 1964, losing a unanimous decision to Joey Giardello.
In June 1966, three white people were shot by two black men at the Lafayette Bar and Grill in Paterson. Carter and Artis were convicted by an all-white jury largely on the testimony of two thieves who later recanted their stories.
Carter was granted a new trial and briefly freed in 1976, but sent back for nine more years after being convicted in a second trial.
“I wouldn’t give up,” Carter said in an interview in 2011. “No matter that they sentenced me to three life terms in prison. I wouldn’t give up. Just because a jury of 12 misinformed people ... found me guilty did not make me guilty. And because I was not guilty, I refused to act like a guilty person.”
Carter finally won his release from US District Judge H. Lee Sarokin, who wrote that Carter’s prosecution had been “predicated upon an appeal to racism rather than reason, and concealment rather than disclosure”.
Born on May 6, 1937, into a family of seven children, Carter struggled with a speech impediment and was sent to a juvenile reform centre at 12 after an assault. He escaped and joined the army in 1954, learning to box while in West Germany.
Carter then committed a series of muggings after returning home, spending four years in various state prisons. He began his professional boxing career in 1961 after his release.
His shaved head and menacing glower gave him an imposing ring presence, but also contributed to a menacing aura outside the ring. He was also quoted as joking about killing police officers in a 1964 story which was later cited by Carter as a cause of his troubles with police.
Carter and Artis were questioned after being spotted in the area of the murders in Carter’s white car, which vaguely matched witnesses’ descriptions.
Both cited alibis and were released, but were arrested months later. A case relying largely on the testimony of thieves Alfred Bello and Arthur Bradley resulted in a conviction in June 1967.
Carter wrote eloquently about his plight in his autobiography, The Sixteenth Round, in 1974.
During his final months, Carter still advocated for prisoners he believed to be wrongfully convicted.
Carter wrote an opinion essay for the New York Daily News in February, arguing vehemently for the release of David McCallum, convicted of a kidnapping and murder in 1985. Carter also briefly mentioned his health.
“Now I’m looking death straight in the eye,” Carter wrote. “He’s got me on the ropes, but I won’t back down.”