Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was born on 6 May, 1937. Rubin Carter was an American middleweight boxer between 1961 and 1966, although he is better known for his controversial convictions and release for 3 June 1966 murders in Paterson, New Jersey.
The question of Rubin Carter’s actual guilt or innocence remains a strongly polarizing one. However, this much is certain: either the criminal justice system released a triple murderer from punishment, or it wrongfully imprisoned an innocent man for almost 20 years.
Rubin Carter grew up in Paterson, New Jersey, a middle son among 7 children. Rubin Carter’s parents had a stable, long-lasting marriage, provided well for the family, and raised their other 6 children without significant problems. Only Rubin Carter seems to have acquired a criminal record, one that resulted in his being sentenced to a juvenile reformatory for assault and robbery shortly after his 14th birthday. Rubin Carter escaped from reformatory in 1954 and joined the Army at the age of 17. A few months after completing infantry basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, he was sent to West Germany where he developed an interest in boxing. However, Rubin Carter was a poor soldier, and was court-martialed 4 times for charges ranging from insubordination to being AWOL. In May 1956, he was discharged as “Undesireable,” well short of his scheduled date of separation. Rubin Carter had served 21 months of his 3-year term of enlistment.
After his return to New Jersey, Rubin Carter was picked up by authorities and sentenced to an additional 10 months for escaping from the reformatory. Shortly after being released, Rubin Carter was arrested for a series of street muggings, which included assault and robbery of a middle-aged black woman. Rubin Carter pleaded guilty to the charges and was imprisoned in Trenton State Prison, a maximum-security prison, where he would remain for the next 4 years.
In prison Rubin Carter resumed his interest in boxing, and upon his release in September 1961, turned professional. At 5 feet 8 inches, Rubin Carter was shorter than the average middleweight, but fought all of his professional career at 155-160 pounds. Rubin Carter’s shaven head, prominent mustache, unwavering stare and solid frame made him an intimidating presence in the ring. Rubin Carter’s aggressive style and punching power (resulting in many early-round knockouts) drew attention, establishing him as a crowd favourite and earning him the nickname “Hurricane.” After he had beaten a number of legitimate middleweight contenders such as Florentino Fernandez, Holley Mims, Gomeo Brennan, and George Benton, the boxing world took notice. Ring Magazine first listed him as one of its “Top 10” middleweight contenders in July, 1963.
Rubin Carter fought 6 times in 1963, winning 4 of the fights and losing 2. Rubin Carter remained ranked in the lower part of the top 10 until 20 December, when he surprised the boxing world by flooring past and future world champion Emile Griffith twice in the 1st round and scoring a technical knockout.
That win resulted in Ring Magazine ranking Rubin Carter as the #3 contender for Joey Giardello’s world middleweight title. Rubin Carter won 2 more fights (1 a decision over future heavyweight champion Jimmy Ellis) in 1964, before meeting Giardello in Philadelphia for a 15-round championship match on 14 December. Rubin Carter fought well in the early rounds, landing a few solid rights to the head, but failed to follow them up and Joey Giardello took control of the fight in the 5th round. The judges awarded Joey Giardello a unanimous decision. An informal poll conducted among ringside sportswriters agreed that Joey Giardello had outboxed the challenger. Rubin Carter was gracious in defeat and did not protest the judging.
After that fight, Rubin Carter’s standing as a contender—as reflected by his ranking in Ring Magazine—began to decline. Rubin Carter fought 9 times in 1965, but lost 4 out of 5 fights against top contenders (Luis Manuel Rodriguez, Englishman Harry Scott and Nigerian Dick Tiger). Dick Tiger, in particular, had no problem with Rubin Carter, flooring him 3 times in their match. “It was,” Rubin Carter said, “the worst beating that I took in my life—inside or outside the ring.” During his visit to London (to fight Harry Scott) Rubin Carter was involved in an altercation at his hotel and fired several shots from a pistol. For the fight to go ahead the promoter of the event, Mickey Duff, paid hush money to keep Rubin Carter out of the hands of the police.
Rubin Carter’s career record in boxing was 27 wins, 12 losses and 1 draw in 40 fights, with 8 knockouts and 11 technical knockouts. Rubin Carter received an honourary championship title belt from the World Boxing Council in 1993, as did Joey Giardello at the same banquet held in Las Vegas.
Rubin Carter is a member of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame.
On 17 June, 1966, at approximately 2:30 a.m., 2 black males entered the Lafayette Bar and Grill in Paterson, New Jersey, and started shooting. The bartender, Jim Oliver, and a male customer, Fred “Cedar Grove Bob” Nauyoks, were killed instantly. A badly wounded female customer, Hazel Tanis, died almost a month later, having been shot in the throat, stomach, intestine, spleen and left lung, and her arm shattered by shotgun pellets. A 3rd customer, Willie Marins, survived the attack, despite being shot in the head and losing sight in one eye. Both Marins and Hazel Tanis told police that the shooters had been 2 black males, although neither identified Rubin Carter or John Artis (or anyone else) as the shooters.
Petty criminal Alfred Bello, who had been near the Lafayette to commit a burglary that same night, was an eyewitness. Alfred Bello later testified that he was approaching the Lafayette when 2 black males – 1 carrying a shotgun, the other a pistol – came around the corner walking towards him. Alfred Bello ran from them, and they got into a white car that was double-parked near the Lafayette. Alfred Bello was 1 of the 1st people on the scene of the shootings, as was Patricia Graham (later Patricia Valentine), a resident on the 2nd floor (above the Lafayette). Alfred Bello (who admitted 4 months later that he stole $60 from the register when he went to get a dime) and Patricia Graham both called the police. Patricia Graham told the police that she saw 2 black males get into a white car and drive away westbound. Another neighbour, Ronald Ruggiero, also heard the shots and said that when he looked from his window he saw Alfred Bello running on Lafayette Street toward 16th Street. Alfred Bello further reported that he heard the screech of tires and saw a white car shoot past, heading west, with 2 black males in the front seat.
Rubin Carter’s car matched the description provided by the witnesses. Police stopped it and brought Rubin Carter and another occupant, John Artis, to the scene about 30minutes after the incident. There was little physical evidence; police took no fingerprints at the crime scene, and lacked the necessary facilities to conduct a paraffin test on Rubin Carter and John Artis. None of the eyewitnesses identified Rubin Carter or John Artis as 1 of the shooters. However, on searching Rubin Carter’s car, the police discovered a live .32 caliber pistol round and a 12-gauge shotgun shell; these rounds were of the same 2 calibers used in the shootings. Rubin Carter and John Artis were taken to police headquarters and questioned.
In the afternoon, both men underwent polygraph testing. Although there are serious questions about exactly what happened during the testing, examiner John J. McGuire subsequently reported the following conclusion about Rubin Carter: “After a careful analysis of the polygraph record of this subject, it is the opinion of the examiner that this subject was attempting deception to all the pertinent questions and was involved in this crime. After the examination and confronted with the examiner’s opinion the subject denied any participation in the crime.” The scientific merit and reliability of polygraph tests are disputed, however, and they are generally inadmissible as evidence. Rubin Carter and John Artis were released later that day.
Several months later, Alfred Bello disclosed to the police that he had an accomplice during the attempted burglary, 1 Arthur Dexter Bradley. On further questioning, Alfred Bello and Arthur Dexter Bradley both independently identified Rubin Carter as 1 of the 2 black males they had seen carrying weapons outside the bar the night of the murders; Alfred Bello also identified John Artis as the other. Based on this additional evidence, Rubin Carter and John Artis were arrested and indicted.
Even though the defense showed that the accused didn’t match one of the descriptions given by eyewitness Marins on 17 June, the 2 stuck to their testimony. This, plus evidence of the identification of Rubin Carter’s car by both Patricia Valentine and Alfred Bello, the ammunition found in Rubin Carter’s car, and questions about the testimony given by Rubin Carter’s alibi witnesses, convinced the all white jury that Rubin Carter and John Artis were the killers. Both men were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Rubin Carter’s supporters – including The New York Times Reporter Selwyn Raab – persuaded Alfred Bello and Arthur Dexter Bradley to recant the testimony they had given at the 1967 trial, and these recantations were used as the basis for a motion for a new trial. But Judge Samuel Larner, who presided over both the original trial and the recantation hearing, ruled that the recantations “lacked the ring of truth,” and denied the motion.
Despite Samuel Larner’s ruling, Madison Avenue advertising guru George Lois organised a campaign on Rubin 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 Rubin Carter was innocent. Rubin Carter also appeared as himself in Dylan’s 1975 movie Renaldo and Clara.
As the defense motions were making their way through the appellate process, New Jersey legislator Eldridge Hawkins (assisted by investigator Prentiss Thompson) launched an independent review of the case, as requested by New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne. After a 3-month investigation, Eldridge Hawkins concluded that Rubin Carter and John Artis had been present at the Lafayette, assisting in the murders, although he did not believe they had been the shooters. Eldridge Hawkins and Prentiss Thompson (both of whom are black) also concluded that the motive for the murders had been revenge for the killing of a black bar owner named Leroy Holloway earlier that evening at the Waltz Inn. Leroy Holloway was the step-father of a man named Eddie Rawls, who was a close friend and drinking companion of Rubin Carter.
While the recantations had become a dead issue, defense attorneys made yet another motion, based on evidence that came to light during the recantation hearing (some of which was contained on a police tape recording of an interview with Alfred Bello). Although Samuel Larner had denied this motion as well, agreeing with the prosecution view that they had tried to present testimony about the interview, but were blocked by the defense, the New Jersey Supreme Court granted Rubin Carter and John Artis a new trial in 1976, unanimously holding that the evidence of various deals made between the prosecution and witnesses Alfred Bello and Arthur Dexter 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.
Despite enormous public and political pressure to drop the case, prosecutor Burrell Ives Humphreys decided to re-prosecute the 10-year-old murder indictments. As part of the re-investigation of the case, Burrell Ives Humphreys had Alfred Bello polygraphed, and while the polygrapher concluded that Alfred Bello was being truthful when he identified Rubin Carter and John Artis as the murderers, there were questions about Alfred Bello’s location when the shooting started.
Burrell Ives Humphreys also made an offer to both Rubin Carter and John Artis—a “no-risk” polygraph test. If either man would take and “pass” a polygraph test conducted by a nationally-recognised expert, Burrell Ives Humphreys would drop the prosecution as to that man. Were he to “fail” the test, there would be no adverse consequences. Both Rubin Carter and John Artis refused Burrell Ives Humphrey’s offer.
During the new trial, witness Alfred Bello repeated the testimony he had given in 1967, identifying Rubin Carter and John Artis as the 2 armed men he said he had seen at the Lafayette Grill. Arthur Dexter Bradley refused to cooperate with prosecutors, and neither prosecution nor defense called him as a witness. Rubin Carter’s alibi witnesses from the 1st trial appeared as prosecution witnesses, and testified that Rubin Carter and his attorney had persuaded them to commit perjury at the 1st trial, providing Rubin Carter with false alibis. But the biggest blow to the defense case occurred when Judge Bruno Leopizzi forced defense witness Fred Hogan – whose efforts had led to the discredited recantations of Alfred Bello and Arthur Dexter Bradley – to produce his notes. These showed that Fred Hogan had discussed paying money to Alfred Bello to procure the recantations, an apparent discussion of bribery.
Judge Leopizzi instructed the jurors that if they did not believe Alfred Bello, they should acquit the defendants. The State objected and requested that the Court instruct the jury that a conviction could be based on the other evidence the State had presented, but this request was denied. After deliberating for almost 9 hours, the jury (which included 2 African-Americans) again found Rubin Carter and John Artis guilty of the murders. Rubin Carter and John Artis were again sentenced to life in prison.
John Artis was paroled in 1981, while Rubin Carter’s defense continued to appeal on various grounds. In 1982, the Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled that the prosecution had withheld evidence from the defense, but that the withheld material was not material (and thus did not create a Brady violation), and affirmed the convictions in a 4-3 decision.
3 years later, Rubin Carter’s attorneys filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court, a rarely successful collateral attack on the judgment of a state court requesting federal review of the constitutionality of the state court’s decision. The effort paid off; in 1985, Judge Haddon Lee Sarokin of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey ruled that Rubin Carter and John Artis had not received a fair trial, saying that the prosecution had been “based on racism rather than reason and concealment rather than disclosure.” Judge Haddon Lee Sarokin chided the State of New Jersey for having withheld evidence regarding Alfred Bello’s problematic polygraph testing and set aside the convictions. New Jersey prosecutors appealed Judge Haddon Lee Sarokin’s ruling to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals and filed a motion with the Court to return Rubin Carter to jail pending the outcome of the appeal. The Court denied this motion and eventually upheld Judge Haddon Lee 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.
These rulings left the prosecutors with the choice of either trying Rubin Carter and John Artis for a 3rd time or dismissing the indictments. In 1988 New Jersey prosecutors filed a motion to dismiss the original indictments brought against Rubin Carter and John Artis. “It is just not legally feasible to sustain a prosecution, and not practical after almost 22 years to be trying anyone,” said NJ Attorney General W. Cary Edwards. Acting Passaic County Prosecutor John P. Goceljak said several factors made a retrial impossible, including concerns about whether Alfred Bello could still be a convincing eyewitness and the unavailability of other witnesses. John P. Goceljak also doubted whether the prosecution could reintroduce the racially motivated crime theory due to the federal court rulings. Furthermore, John Artis had already been paroled and would not have been returned to prison even had he been re-convicted. The motion to dismiss was granted, effectively dropping all charges.
Rubin Carter now lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and was executive director of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (ADWC) from 1993 until 2005. Rubin Carter publicly resigned from the ADWC when the prosecutor of Guy Paul Morin, a wrongfully convicted man, was promoted to a judgeship and the ADWC declined to support Rubin Carter’s protest of the appointment. In 1996 Rubin Carter, then 60, was arrested when Toronto police mistakenly identified him as a suspect in his 30s believed to have sold drugs to an undercover officer. Rubin Carter was released after the police realised their error. Rubin Carter now works as a motivational speaker. On 14 October, 2005, Rubin Carter received 2 honourary Doctorates of Law, 1from York University (Toronto, Ontario) and 1 from Griffith University (Brisbane, Australia), in recognition of his work with the ADWC and the Innocence Project. Rubin Carter is currently in St. Johns Newfoundland and Labrador filming a documentary about wrongfully convicted people at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St John’s and across the Atlantic Provinces for CBC.
Rubin Carter’s saga inspired the Norman Jewison 1999 feature film The Hurricane, starring Denzel Washington in the title role.
John Artis, after being released on parole in 1985, was imprisoned again in 1986 when he pled guilty to dealing cocaine and to receiving a stolen handgun. John Artis is now a social worker, helping troubled youths.
Rubin Carter has had stuttering problems since youth but it has been the least of his problems until his old age.
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