Apr 28, 2014
Rubin “Hurricane” Carter has died at the age of 76. Carter, a well-known black middleweight boxer, was twice falsely convicted of a triple murder, in 1967 and 1976, and sentenced to life in prison. Carter eventually won his release from prison after a widespread campaign on his behalf.
In June of 1966, three people were shot in a bar in Paterson, New Jersey. Carter and his friend John Artis were arrested and charged with the murders. It later became clear that the cops and the prosecutors were out to get Carter, to pin the crime on him despite having no case against him.
The prosecution based their case largely on the testimony of two “eyewitnesses” who later recanted. The police took no fingerprints at the scene of the murders and did not test Carter and Artis for gunshot residue. They claimed to show the bullets could have come from guns found in Carter’s car, but the bullets used in the shootings did not match those found with the guns.
In 1974, the original judge in the case refused to grant Carter a new trial. Carter was outspoken about his innocence, and gained widespread popular support on his behalf. Muhammad Ali spoke out in Carter’s defense. Bob Dylan wrote a hit song declaring him innocent.
That led the New Jersey Supreme Court to take up the case, and in 1975 it granted Carter and Artis a new trial, finding the prosecution withheld evidence from the defense.
The prosecution wanted to make an example of Carter, to make it clear they weren’t going to accept having another Muhammad Ali on their hands. They prosecuted Carter a second time. At the second trial, one of the supposed “eyewitnesses” refused to testify. Other witnesses corroborated Carter’s alibi that he was in a different bar at the time of the shooting.
Still, without evidence, the prosecution presented the theory Carter and Artis carried out the shootings as revenge for the killing of a black bar owner earlier that night. An all-white jury again convicted the two.
In 1985 after Carter had spent 19 years in prison, Judge Haddon Sorokin finally overturned his conviction on the grounds the prosecution was “predicated upon an appeal to racism rather than reason” based on the prosecution’s “revenge” theory, “and concealment rather than disclosure.”
Following his release from prison, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter moved to Canada, reasonably fearing retribution by the American system of injustice. Up to his death, he remained an outspoken defender of other black prisoners falsely convicted of crimes they did not commit.