Rubin "Hurricane" “Hurricane” Carter (Rubin Carter)
Carter was born in Clifton, New Jersey, the fourth of seven children. He acquired a criminal record and was sentenced to a juvenile reformatory for assault, having stabbed a man when he was 11. Carter escaped from the reformatory in 1954 and joined the Army. A few months after completing infantry basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, he was sent to West Germany. While in Germany, Carter began to box for the United States Army.
In May 1956, he received an “Unfitness” discharge, well before the end of his three-year term of enlistment. He was arrested less than a month later for his escape from the Jamesburg Home for Boys. After his return to New Jersey, Carter was picked up by authorities and sentenced to an additional nine months, five of which he served in Annandale prison. Shortly after being released, Carter committed a series of muggings, including assault and robbery of a middle-aged black woman. He pleaded guilty to the charges and was imprisoned for the next four years in East Jersey State Prison (a maximum-security facility in Avenel, New Jersey, formerly Rahway State Prison) and in Trenton State Prison.
After his release from prison in September 1961, Carter became a professional boxer. At 5 ft 8 in (1.73 m), Carter was shorter than the average middleweight, but he fought all of his professional career at 155–160 lb (70–72.6 kg). His aggressive style and punching power (resulting in many early-round knockouts) drew attention, establishing him as a crowd favorite and earning him the nickname “Hurricane.” After he defeated a number of middleweight contenders—such as Florentino Fernandez, Holley Mims, Gomeo Brennan, and George Benton—the boxing world took notice. The Ring first listed him as one of its “Top 10” middleweight contenders in July 1963.
He fought six times in 1963, winning four bouts and losing two. He remained ranked in the lower part of the top 10 until December 20, when he surprised the boxing world by flooring past and future world champion Emile Griffith twice in the first round and scoring a technical knockout. That win resulted in The Ring‘s ranking of Carter as the number three contender for Joey Giardello’s world middleweight title. Carter won two more fights (one a decision over future heavyweight champion Jimmy Ellis) in 1964, before meeting Giardello in Philadelphia for a 15-round championship match on December 14. Carter fought well in the early rounds, landing a few solid rights to the head and staggering Giardello in the fourth, but failed to follow them up, and Giardello took control of the fight in the fifth round. The judges awarded Giardello a unanimous decision. Carter felt in retrospect that he lost by not bringing the fight to the champion.
After that fight, Carter’s standing as a contender—as reflected by his ranking in The Ring—began to decline. He fought nine times in 1965, but lost three of four fights against top contenders (Luis Manuel Rodríguez, Dick Tiger, and Harry Scott). Tiger, in particular, floored Carter three times in their match. “It was,” Carter said, “the worst beating that I took in my life—inside or outside the ring.” During his visit to London (to fight Scott) Carter was involved in an incident in which a shot was fired in his hotel room.
Carter’s career record in boxing was 27 wins, 12 losses, and one draw in 40 fights, with 19 total knockouts (8 KOs and 11 TKOs). He received an honorary championship title belt from the World Boxing Council in 1993 (as did Joey Giardello at the same banquet) and was later inducted into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame.
On June 17, 1966, at approximately 2:30 a.m., two males entered the Lafayette Bar and Grill at East 18th Street at Lafayette Street in Paterson, New Jersey, and started shooting. The bartender, James Oliver, and a male customer, Fred Nauyoks, were killed instantly. A severely wounded female customer, Hazel Tanis, died almost a month later, having been shot in the throat, stomach, intestine, spleen and left lung, and having her arm shattered by shotgun pellets. A third customer, Willie Marins, survived the attack, despite a gunshot wound to the head that cost him the sight in one eye. During questioning, both Marins and Tanis told police that the shooters had been black males, though neither identified Carter or John Artis.
Petty criminal Alfred Bello, who had been near the Lafayette that night to burglarize a factory, was an eyewitness. Bello later testified that he was approaching the Lafayette when two black males—one carrying a shotgun, the other a pistol—came around the corner walking towards him. He ran from them, and they got into a white car that was double-parked near the Lafayette.
Bello was one of the first people on the scene of the shootings, as was Patricia Graham (later Patricia Valentine), a resident on the second floor (above the Lafayette Bar and Grill). Graham told the police that she saw two black males get into a white car and drive westbound. Another neighbor, Ronald Ruggiero, also heard the shots, and said that, from his window, he saw Alfred Bello running west on Lafayette Street toward 16th Street. He then heard the screech of tires and saw a white car shoot past, heading west, with two black males in the front seat. Both Bello and Valentine gave police a description of the car that was the same. Valentine’s testimony regarding the car having lights lit up like butterflies, which Carter’s did not have, changed when she testified during the second trial. In response, the prosecution theorized that the dissimilarity perceived in Valentine’s description was the result of a misreading of a court transcript by the defense.
Hours before the triple murder, Carter was searching for guns that he had lost a year earlier. Carter was driving a white Dodge Polara, which was notable for its butterfly taillights and out-of-state license plate with blue background and gold lettering. Ten minutes after the murder, police stopped Carter’s car. The police, not yet aware of the description of the getaway car, let Carter go. Minutes later, the same police officers solicited a description of the getaway car from eyewitness Al Bello. He described the car as white with “a geometric design, sort of a butterfly type design in the back of the car”, and as bearing out-of-state license plates with blue background and orange lettering. On hearing his description, the police realized that Al Bello was describing the car that they had only moments earlier let go. When police found Carter’s car they stopped it and brought Carter and another occupant, John Artis, to the scene about 31 minutes after the incident. Police took no fingerprints at the crime scene, and lacked the facilities to test Carter and Artis for gunshot residue.
On searching the car about 45 minutes later, Detective Emil DiRobbio found a live .32 caliber pistol round under the front passenger seat and a 12-gauge shotgun shell in the trunk. Ballistics later established that the murder weapons had been a .32 caliber pistol and a 12-gauge shotgun. The defense later raised questions about this evidence, as it was not logged with a property clerk until five days after the murders. The prosecution responded to this line of questioning by producing a report lodged 75 minutes after the murders that documents the presence of the 32. caliber pistol round and 12-gauge shotgun shell. The defense was able to show that the bullet found in the Carter car was brass cased, rather than copper coated like those found at the Lafayette Bar, and that the shotgun shell found in the Carter car was an older model, with a different wad and color. In response, the prosecution argued that the metal and make of the retrieved ammunition was meaningless because the ammunition found at the crime scene was also dissimilar. Furthermore, the ammunition found in the car was usable by the murder weapons.
Police took Carter and Artis to police headquarters and questioned them. Witnesses did not identify them as the killers, and they were released. Carter and Artis voluntarily appeared before a grand jury, which did not return an indictment.
Several months later, Bello disclosed to the police that he had an accomplice during the attempted burglary, one Arthur Dexter Bradley. On further questioning, Bello and Bradley both identified Carter as one of the two males they had seen carrying weapons outside the bar the night of the murders. Bello also identified Artis as the other. Based on this additional evidence, Carter and Artis were arrested and indicted.
At the 1967 trial, Carter was represented by well-known attorney Raymond A. Brown. Brown focused on inconsistencies in some of the descriptions given by eyewitnesses Marins and Bello. The defense also produced a number of alibi witnesses who testified that Carter and Artis had been in the Nite Spot (a nearby bar) at about the time of the shootings. Both men were convicted. Prosecutors sought the death penalty, but jurors recommended that each defendant receive a life sentence for each murder. Judge Samuel Larner imposed two consecutive and one concurrent life sentence on Carter, and three concurrent life sentences on Artis.
In 1974, Bello and Bradley recanted their identifications of Carter and Artis, and these recantations were used as the basis for a motion for a new trial. Judge Samuel Larner denied the motion on December 11, saying that the recantations “lacked the ring of truth.”
Despite Larner’s ruling, Madison Avenue advertising guru George Lois organized a campaign on Carter’s behalf, which led to increasing public support for a retrial or pardon. Muhammad Ali lent his support to the campaign, and Bob Dylan co-wrote (with Jacques Levy) and performed a song called “Hurricane” (1975), which declared that Carter was innocent. In 1975 Dylan performed the song at a concert at Trenton State Prison, where Carter was temporarily an inmate.
However, during the hearing on the recantations, defense attorneys also argued that Bello and Bradley had lied during the 1967 trial, telling the jurors that they had made only certain narrow, limited deals with prosecutors in exchange for their trial testimony. A detective taped one interrogation of Bello in 1966, and when it was played during the recantation hearing, defense attorneys argued that the tape revealed promises beyond what Bello had testified to. If so, prosecutors had either had a Brady obligation to disclose this additional exculpatory evidence, or a duty to disclose the fact that their witnesses had lied on the stand.
Larner denied this second argument as well, but the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously held that the evidence of various deals made between the prosecution and witnesses Bello and Bradley should have been disclosed to the defense before or during the 1967 trial as this could have “affected the jury’s evaluation of the credibility” of the eyewitnesses. “The defendants’ right to a fair trial was substantially prejudiced,” said Justice Mark Sullivan. The court set aside the original convictions and granted Carter and Artis a new trial.
Despite the difficulties of prosecuting a ten-year-old case, Prosecutor Burrell Ives Humphreys decided to try Carter and Artis again. To ensure, as best he could, that he did not use perjured testimony to obtain a conviction, Humphreys had Bello polygraphed—once by Leonard H. Harrelson and a second time by Richard Arther, both well-known and respected experts in the field. Both men concluded that Bello was telling the truth when he said that he had seen Carter outside the Lafayette immediately after the murders.
However, Harrelson also reported orally that Bello had been inside the bar shortly before and at the time of the shooting, a conclusion that contradicted Bello’s 1967 trial testimony. Despite this oral report, Harrelson’s subsequent written report stated that Bello’s 1967 testimony had been truthful, the polygraphist apparently unaware that in 1967, Bello testified that he had been on the street at the time of the shooting. During the new trial, Alfred Bello repeated his 1967 testimony, identifying Carter and Artis as the two armed men he had seen outside the Lafayette Grill. Bradley refused to cooperate with prosecutors, and neither prosecution nor defense called him as a witness.
The defense responded with testimony from multiple witnesses who identified Carter at the locations he claimed to be at when the murders happened. Defense witness Fred Hogan—whose efforts had led to the discredited recantations of Bello and Bradley—dealt the defense yet another blow. Though Hogan denied offering any bribes or inducements to Bello, Judge Bruno Leopizzi forced him to produce his original handwritten notes on his conversations with Bello.
The court also heard testimony from a Carter associate that Passaic County prosecutors had tried to pressure her into testifying against Carter. Prosecutors denied the charge. After deliberating for almost nine hours, the jury again found Carter and Artis guilty of the murders. Judge Leopizzi re-imposed the same sentences on both men: a double life sentence for Carter, a single life sentence for Artis.
Artis was paroled in 1981. Carter’s attorneys continued to appeal. In 1982, the Supreme Court of New Jersey affirmed his convictions (4–3). While the justices felt that the prosecutors should have disclosed Harrelson’s oral opinion (about Bello’s location at the time of the murders) to the defense, only a minority thought this was material. The majority thus concluded that the prosecution had not withheld information that the Brady disclosure law required that they provide to the defense.
According to bail bondswoman Carolyn Kelley, in 1975–1976 she helped raise funds to win a second trial for Carter, which resulted in his release on bail in March 1976. On a fund-raising trip the following month, Kelley said the boxer beat her severely over a disputed hotel bill. The Philadelphia Daily News reported the alleged beating in a front-page story several weeks later, and celebrity support for Carter quickly eroded, though Carter denied the accusation and there was insufficient evidence for legal prosecution. Mae Thelma Basket, whom Carter had married in 1963, divorced him after their second child was born, because she found out that he had been unfaithful to her.
Three years later, Carter’s attorneys filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court. In 1985, Judge Haddon Lee Sarokin of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey granted the writ, noting that the prosecution had been “predicated upon an appeal to racism rather than reason, and concealment rather than disclosure,” and set aside the convictions. Carter, 48 years old, was freed without bail in November 1985.
Prosecutors appealed Sarokin’s ruling to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and filed a motion with the court to return Carter to prison pending the outcome of the appeal. The court denied this motion and eventually upheld Sarokin’s opinion, affirming his Brady analysis without commenting on his other rationale. The prosecutors appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.
Prosecutors therefore could have tried Carter (and Artis) a third time, but decided not to, and filed a motion to dismiss the original indictments. “It is just not legally feasible to sustain a prosecution, and not practical after almost 22 years to be trying anyone,” said New Jersey Attorney General W. Cary Edwards. Acting Passaic County Prosecutor John P. Goceljak said several factors made a retrial impossible, including Bello’s “current unreliability” as a witness and the unavailability of other witnesses. Goceljak also doubted whether the prosecution could reintroduce the racially motivated crime theory due to the federal court rulings. A judge granted the motion to dismiss, bringing an end to the legal proceedings.
Carter lived in Toronto, Ontario, and was executive director of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC) from 1993 until 2005. Carter resigned when the AIDWYC declined to support Carter’s protest of the appointment (to a judgeship) of Susan MacLean, who was the prosecutor of Canadian Guy Paul Morin, who served over eighteen months in prison for rape and murder until exonerated by DNA evidence.
Carter’s second marriage was to Lisa Peters. The couple separated later. In 1996 Carter, then 59, was arrested when Toronto police mistakenly identified him as a suspect in his thirties believed to have sold drugs to an undercover officer. He was released after the police realized their error.
Carter often served as a motivational speaker. On October 14, 2005, he received two honorary Doctorates of Law, one from York University (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) and one from Griffith University (Brisbane, Queensland, Australia), in recognition of his work with AIDWYC and the Innocence Project. Carter received the Abolition Award from Death Penalty Focus in 1996.
In March 2012, while attending the International Justice Conference in Burswood, Western Australia, Carter revealed that he had terminal prostate cancer. At the time, doctors gave him between three and six months to live. Beginning shortly after that time, John Artis lived with and cared for Carter, and on April 20, 2014, he confirmed that Carter had succumbed to his illness.
In the months leading up to his death, Carter worked for the exoneration of David McCallum, a Brooklyn man who has been incarcerated since 1985 on charges of murder. Two months before his death, Carter published “Hurricane Carter’s Dying Wish,” an opinion piece in the New York Daily News, in which he asked for an independent review of McCallum’s conviction. “I request only that McCallum be granted a full hearing by the Brooklyn conviction integrity unit, now under the auspices of the new district attorney, Ken Thompson. Knowing what I do, I am certain that when the facts are brought to light, Thompson will recommend his immediate release … Just as my own verdict ‘was predicated on racism rather than reason and on concealment rather than disclosure,’ as Sarokin wrote, so too was McCallum’s,” Carter wrote.
- May, 06, 1937
- Clifton, New Jersey
- April, 20, 2014
- Toronto, Canada