dead issue

Rubin Carter

For the football player of the same name see Rubin Carter (football player).
Rubin "Hurricane" Carter (born May 6, 1937) was an American middleweight boxer between 1961 and 1966, although he is better known for his controversial convictions and release for three June 1966 murders in Paterson, New Jersey.

The question of 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.

Pre-boxing life

Carter grew up in Paterson, New Jersey, a middle son among seven children. His parents had a stable, long-lasting marriage, provided well for the family, and raised their other six children without significant problems. Only Rubin 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. Carter escaped from reformatory in 1954 and joined the Army at age 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, Carter was a poor soldier, and was court-martialed four 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. He had served 21 months of his three-year term of enlistment.

After his return to New Jersey, Carter was picked up by authorities and sentenced to an additional ten months for escaping from the reformatory. Shortly after being released, Carter was arrested for a series of street muggings, which included assault and robbery of a middle-aged black woman. He pleaded guilty to the charges and was imprisoned in Trenton State Prison, a maximum-security prison, where he would remain for the next four years.

Boxing career

In prison Carter resumed his interest in boxing, and upon his release in September 1961, turned professional. At 5 feet 8 inches, Carter was shorter than the average middleweight, but fought all of his professional career at 155-160 pounds. His shaven head, prominent mustache, unwavering stare and solid frame made him an intimidating presence in the ring. 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 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.

He fought six times in 1963, winning four of the fights 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 Ring Magazine ranking Carter as the #3 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, but failed to follow them up and Giardello took control of the fight in the 5th round. The judges awarded Giardello a unanimous decision. An informal poll conducted among ringside sportswriters agreed that Giardello had outboxed the challenger. Carter was gracious in defeat and did not protest the judging.

After that fight, Carter's standing as a contender—as reflected by his ranking in Ring Magazine—began to decline. He fought nine times in 1965, but lost four of five fights against top contenders (Luis Manuel Rodriguez, Englishman Harry Scott and Nigerian Dick Tiger). Tiger, in particular, had no problem with Carter, flooring him 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 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 Carter out of the hands of the police.

Carter's career record in boxing was 27 wins, 12 losses and one draw in 40 fights, with 8 knockouts and 11 technical knockouts. He received an honorary championship title belt from the World Boxing Council in 1993, as did Joey Giardello at the same banquet held in Las Vegas.

Carter is a member of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame.

The murders

On June 17, 1966, at approximately 2:30 a.m., two 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 third customer, Willie Marins, survived the attack, despite being shot in the head and losing sight in one eye. Both Marins and Tanis told police that the shooters had been two black males, although neither identified Carter or 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. 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). Bello (who admitted four months later that he stole $60 from the register when he went to get a dime) and Graham both called the police. Graham told the police that she saw two black males get into a white car and drive away westbound. Another neighbor, 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. He further reported that he heard the screech of tires and saw a white car shoot past, heading west, with two black males in the front seat.

Carter's car matched the description provided by the witnesses. Police stopped it and brought Carter and another occupant, John Artis, to the scene about thirty minutes 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 Carter and Artis. None of the eyewitnesses identified Carter or Artis as one of the shooters. However, on searching Carter's car, the police discovered a live .32 caliber pistol round and a 12-gauge shotgun shell; these rounds were of the same two calibers used in the shootings. Carter and 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 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. Carter and Artis were released later that day.

First conviction and appeal

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 independently identified Carter as one of the two black 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.

Even though the defense showed that the accused didn't match one of the descriptions given by eyewitness Marins on June 17, the two stuck to their testimony. This, plus evidence of the identification of Carter's car by both Patricia Valentine and Bello, the ammunition found in Carter's car, and questions about the testimony given by Carter's alibi witnesses, convinced the all white jury that Carter and Artis were the killers. Both men were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Carter's supporters - including The New York Times Reporter Selwyn Raab - persuaded Bello and 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 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. 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 three-month investigation, Hawkins concluded that Carter and Artis had been present at the Lafayette, assisting in the murders, although he did not believe they had been the shooters. Hawkins and 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 Bello). Although 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 Carter and Artis a new trial in 1976, unanimously holding 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.

Despite enormous public and political pressure to drop the case, prosecutor Burrell Ives Humphreys decided to re-prosecute the ten-year-old murder indictments. As part of the re-investigation of the case, Humphreys had Bello polygraphed, and while the polygrapher concluded that Bello was being truthful when he identified Carter and Artis as the murderers, there were questions about Bello's location when the shooting started.

Humphreys also made an offer to both Carter and Artis—a "no-risk" polygraph test. If either man would take and "pass" a polygraph test conducted by a nationally-recognized expert, Humphreys would drop the prosecution as to that man. Were he to "fail" the test, there would be no adverse consequences. Both Carter and Artis refused Humphrey's offer.

Second conviction and appeal

During the new trial, witness Alfred Bello repeated the testimony he had given in 1967, identifying Carter and Artis as the two armed men he said he had seen at the Lafayette Grill. Bradley refused to cooperate with prosecutors, and neither prosecution nor defense called him as a witness. Carter's alibi witnesses from the first trial appeared as prosecution witnesses, and testified that Carter and his attorney had persuaded them to commit perjury at the first trial, providing 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 Bello and Bradley - to produce his notes. These showed that Hogan had discussed paying money to Bello to procure the recantations, an apparent discussion of bribery.

Judge Leopizzi instructed the jurors that if they did not believe 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 nine hours, the jury (which included two African-Americans) again found Carter and Artis guilty of the murders. Carter and Artis were again sentenced to life in prison.

Artis was paroled in 1981, while 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.

Appeal at the federal court

Three 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 Carter and Artis had not received a fair trial, saying that the prosecution had been "based on racism rather than reason and concealment rather than disclosure." He chided the State of New Jersey for having withheld evidence regarding Bello's problematic polygraph testing and set aside the convictions. New Jersey prosecutors appealed Sarokin's ruling to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and filed a motion with the Court to return Carter to jail 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.

These rulings left the prosecutors with the choice of either trying Carter and Artis for a third time or dismissing the indictments. In 1988 New Jersey prosecutors filed a motion to dismiss the original indictments brought against Carter and 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 Bello could still be a convincing eyewitness 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. 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.

Aftermath

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. 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 Carter's protest of the appointment. In 1996 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. He was released after the police realized their error. Carter now works as a motivational speaker. On October 14 2005, Rubin Carter received two honorary Doctorates of Law, one from York University (Toronto, Ontario) and one from Griffith University (Brisbane, Australia), in recognition of his work with the ADWC and the Innocence Project. He 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. 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. He is now a social worker, helping troubled youths.

References

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