Ten-Count for Hurricane Carter

By Robert Ecksel on April 20, 2014
Ten-Count for Hurricane Carter
The formerly voiceless troublemaker from Clifton, North Jersey, had finally found his voice.

“To live in a world where truth matters and justice, however late, really happens, that world would be heaven enough for us all…”

Former middleweight contender Rubin “Hurricane” Carter passed away Sunday morning at his home in Toronto after a long battle with prostate cancer. He was 76.

Hurricane Carter was born on May 6, 1937 in Clifton, New Jersey, the fourth of seven children. Carter wrote about those early years in his autobiography, The Sixteenth Round: “The best thing I can say about my childhood is that I survived it.”

Plagued by a stammer for which he was bullied and a dismissive, unsympathetic father, Carter fought back the only way he knew how, by being incorrigible. He began stealing at an early age. When he was nine his father turned him into the police for shoplifting from a store in Paterson.

When he was in the fourth grade, Carter was removed from public school and placed in a special school for the disruptive.

At the age of 11 he was sent to the Jamesburg State Home for Boys after stabbing a man who allegedly made sexual advances. After six years in reform school, where the guards taunted and beat him, Carter escaped and joined the Army.

The discipline and structure served him well. Carter became a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division in West Germany. He also learned how to box, becoming the Army’s European light welterweight champion with a record of 51-5 with 35 knockouts.

“They were strong, honest people,” Carter said about his fellow boxers during that time, “hardworking and equally hard-fighting. There were no complications there whatsoever, no tensions, no fears.”

Carter left the Army in May 1956, returned to Paterson, and was hired as a truck driver. A month later his past caught up with him and he was busted for bolting from Jamesburg and sentenced to 10 months at the Annandale Reformatory.

After his release Carter, unreformed, unrepentant, and angrier than ever, went on a crime spree that included muggings and assault and robbery. Rather than face trial, he copped a plea and was jailed for four years in Trenton State Prison where, Carter wrote, “quiet rage became my constant companion.”

One day after he was released from prison in September 1961 he turned pro. That auspicious day was September 22, 1961, in Annapolis, Maryland, where Rubin Carter won a split decision victory over 1-0 Pike Reed.

The formerly voiceless troublemaker from Clifton, New Jersey, had finally found his voice: “I was in my element now. Fighting was the pulse beat of my heart and I loved it.”

Making up for lost time, Carter fought three more times that year and 12 times in 1962, including wins over Florentino Fernandez (31-5) and Holly Mims (59-23-6). Never mistaken for a stylist, Carter was an aggressive slugger with a powerful left hook who fast became a fan favorite.

He fought six times in 1963, defeating, among others, George Benton in May and Emile Griffith in December. Carter was also ranked among the top ten middleweights by The Ring magazine.

Rubin Carter was on top of the world and lived accordingly. He was fly. He was flashy. He wore custom-made suits. He drove a black Cadillac with the words “Rubin Hurricane Carter” engraved in silver letters next to the headlights. Everyone in Paterson knew who the Hurricane was, friend and foe alike. Carter would have had it no other way.

He got his coveted shot at the middleweight crown held by Joey Giardello on December 14, 1964, in the champion’s hometown. Hurricane started strong but faded late and lost a close decision after 15 rounds.

After the big fight in Philly, the pinnacle of Carter’s career, his decline was precipitous. He fought nine times in 1965, but when he stepped up the competition he inevitably lost. The old anger didn’t return, simply because the old anger never left. Early in 1965 in London, gunshots were fired in his hotel room.

The proverbial shit hit the fan in 1966.

After midnight on June 17, 1966, Carter was barhopping and stopped at a night spot called the Night Spot. Half a mile away, at about 2:30 am, two black men entered a bar and killed two white men and a white woman. Their weapons of choice were a shotgun and pistol, and the presumed motive was retaliation for a white on black murder earlier that night.

Carter and a causal acquaintance, John Artis, were stopped by the police. Carter’s leased white sedan supposedly looked like the getaway car. Carter and Artis, like the killers, were black. But an eyewitness to the shooting failed to identify them, and they both passed lie detector tests, so the two men were released.

Two months later, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and John Artis were arrested and charged with three counts of murder.

The trial, as trials often are, was a joke. Although the defendants had alibi witnesses who placed them elsewhere at the time of the murders, two prosecution witnesses, Alfred P. Bello and Arthur D. Bradley, white ex-cons who testified that they were in the vicinity of the murders because they were attempting to burglarize a nearby factory, said they saw Carter and Artis leaving the tavern with guns in their hands.

The defendants were found guilty. Carter received a sentence of 30 years to life. Artis, because he wasn’t Hurricane Carter, got 15 years to life. The New Jersey Supreme Court denied their appeals for a new trial.

Carter made the most of his years in prison. He was defiant. He refused to conform. He found peace of a sort in isolation. He read and studied history, philosophy, religion, metaphysics, and of course the law.

In 1974 Bello and Bradley recanted their testimony and the two guilty verdicts were overturned in 1976. Prosecutorial misconduct was also a factor.

But it wasn’t over. A second trial, in December 1976, featured Bello recanting his recantation and Carter and Artis were jailed again. Nine more years passed before Judge H. Lee Sarokin overturned the convictions on constitutional grounds. Twenty-two years after the original indictments, Rubin Carter and John Artis were free at last.

Carter’s case had become a cause célèbre. Bob Dylan wrote a song. Denzel Washington was in a movie. Amnesty International called him as a “prisoner of conscience.” Muhammad Ali was in his corner. And Carter fought the criminal justice system until his dying day.

“To live in a world where truth matters and justice, however late, really happens, that world would be heaven enough for us all.”

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  1. andrew 06:55pm, 04/22/2014

    Carter was a murderer who profited from media glamour playing the race card. The facts at both his trial proved his guilt.

  2. thresher 03:11pm, 04/22/2014

    holey moley

  3. Eric 01:42pm, 04/22/2014

    @Thresher… No suprise there. What can you expect from a world that just recently praised Nelson Mandela and presented him as some sort of saint. It appears as if Mandela could lay claim to being the world’s most beloved terrorist. Kind of unusual to see former POTUSs like Dumbya, JC, and Slick Willie, with “our” current president, Odunga, lauding praises over the communist Mandela. South Africa has become a giant toilet, and Johannesburg is probably one of the most crime ridden cities on earth.

  4. Thresher 12:14pm, 04/22/2014

    Now the flag is at half mast at the IBHOF. How do you spell politically correct?

  5. Eric 07:12pm, 04/21/2014

    bikermike…I would fight the good fight but don’t know how long the will to fight would last sitting in a 6 by 8 prison cell.  That has got to be some lonely kind of feeling, to be innocent, having no one believe you, and faced with a life sentence or possibly the death penalty. There was a serial killer killing college kids in Gainesville, Florida in the early nineties, the cops captured some young kid at first. Eventually, the cops nailed the real culprit, some creature named Danny Rolling. You could imagine what was going through that kid’s head at the time he was arrested. I really don’t know a helluva lot about Carter’s case or trial. Remember ex-light heavyweight contender James Scott, Scott said he was inspired by Carter and I think Scott did some jail time with Carter. If I’m not mistaken Scott was doing time for armed robbery while he was boxing in the late seventies and early eighties, but Scott would later be found guilty of murder in 1981.

  6. bikermike 06:08pm, 04/21/2014

    eric….respectfully….

    If ..as some other post commented….eric if you got sent down the river on a false charge….you’d fight it ...rather than take the needle…
    If you knew you were innocent…

    Carter ...in many people’s minds….was just another perversion of what was dispenced as justice…then…and even now.

    Carter was no saint…but then ...neither am I

  7. Tex Hassler 05:04pm, 04/21/2014

    Carter certainly was a favorite among the fight fans. He came to fight and gave his all. I saw the Griffith vs Carter fight in 1963 on TV. Carter was a good spokesperson for boxing and he will be missed.

  8. bikermike 04:55pm, 04/21/2014

    I used to be a proponent of capital punishment…..but ...knowing what I know now…I’m not so sure that the justice system can actually deliver justice..all the time.

    ...like Mr Carter…..it turns out that he got sent up the river on false testimony…and he wasn’t the first..nor the last…

    When they hit that switch…there is no appeal….and the case is closed
    That doesn’t mean justice has been served

    Since my study of too many cases…..Prison…over the death penalty…
    ..and stop plugging up prisons with non threatening felons…

  9. bikermike 04:44pm, 04/21/2014

    Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was ...in my mind any way…sort of like USA"s version of Nelson Mandela.

    Rest in Peace Mr Carter….you’ll not be forgotten

  10. Eric 11:34am, 04/21/2014

    Guilty or not, I would rather be executed than spend my life behind bars in a maximum security prison. Like Norman Mailer’s other prison pen pal, Gary Gilmore, I would request to be executed IF I knew I would spend decades or the rest of my life in prison. I think only a handful of states still use the electric chair if I’m not mistaken, I certainly would prefer the chair over stretching the old neck by hanging. Have no idea if hanging is still used in any state or states.

  11. Lee 09:03am, 04/21/2014

    As far as ‘playing the race card’ is concerned I would suggest that if you have been sent down by a corrupt system for a crime you did not commit, and are facing the electric chair, then you play any damn card that is available to you.
    And let us not forget forget John Artis in all of this. Unlike the prosecution witnesses that were given ‘attractive’ inducements in order to ‘sex up’ the case, Artis refused all such offers, kept his mouth shut and stayed in jail as a result.

  12. Eric 08:04am, 04/21/2014

    Bob Dylan probably couldn’t give a rat’s arse about Rubin Carter if the truth were known. He CASHED in on the bidness of race husslin’ while it was at its zenith, highly chic and profitable. Reminds me of when country singer Toby Keith jumped on the patriot bandwagon after 9-11. Seems like every other song by Keith was about the good ole US of A and kickin’ A-rab arse. Looks like Carter would have come clean on his deathbed if he had been guilty of murder, at least you would think a dying man would tell the truth.

  13. Thresher 07:24am, 04/21/2014

    Gee, I think I am going to watch Straw Dogs! With Led Zep in the background.

  14. Eric 07:17am, 04/21/2014

    @andrew…Jack Abbott’s father was an Irish American and his mother was Chinese. Carter has gone before the ultimate judge now. He won’t be able to pull the race card on God .If the man was wrongly convicted, to spend nearly two decades in prison as an innocent man had to be extremely hard to endure. However, didn’t two black guys identify Carter and Artis leaving the scene of the crime? Really not that familiar with the case. As a boxer, Carter never really impressed me much. He knocked out all time great Emile Griffith in the first round, but Carter lost to Joey Archer, Giardello, and was soundly trashed by Dick Tiger. Never saw the movie that came out based on Carter, but I’ve heard that Hollyweird predictably played the race card on Carter’s legitimate loss to middleweight champion Joey Giardello. I won’t make any accusations on Carter’s murder convictions due to lack of knowledge of his case, but I can say that Carter is pretty overrated as a fighter. He was a strong,  well built, hard punching fighter, but certainly wasn’t the fighter he’s been portrayed as by the media or Hollyweird. Carter would have had his hands full fighting a Curtis Parker a couple of decades later.

  15. Clarence George 05:43am, 04/21/2014

    Robert:  I certainly won’t defend the Bernie Madoffs of the world.  A childhood friend of my brother committed suicide because of him.  Still, the victims of violent crime, of brutalization and humiliation, would strongly disagree with you.  And I think it would be difficult, to say the least, to persuade them that they’re wrong.

  16. Robert Ecksel 05:35am, 04/21/2014

    Clarence—I don’t believe for a second that violence is always physical. Physical violence is the means by which the dregs of society, or the droogs of society, express their contempt. Ivy leaguers, no less contemptuous, have other means at their disposal.

  17. Robert Ecksel 05:24am, 04/21/2014

    Thresher—Did Hurricane Carter or Jack Abbott ever hold you hostage? And if Carter and Abbott bonds paid a nice rate these days, would that make their behavior okay? Should we assume a million ruined lives and one ruined life are equivalent, as if so why?

  18. Clarence George 05:20am, 04/21/2014

    Thresher:  Portrayed by Tony Musante and Martin Sheen in their respective screen debuts.

    Robert:  I don’t feel comfortable defining violence so broadly and loosely.  Crime, yes, evil, yes, but true violence is always physical.  And underlying it, as I said before, is the perverse desire to traumatize.

  19. Thresher 05:12am, 04/21/2014

    No. Crime does. Violence is just a form of crime.

  20. Robert Ecksel 05:10am, 04/21/2014

    Clarence—Violence comes in all shapes and sizes and can be defined in many ways. I’m not convinced that scale can be ignored.

  21. Thresher 05:09am, 04/21/2014

    I don’t much care for Jack Abbott types or for guys about whom Bob Dylan writes songs, though I did like Davey Moore.

  22. Thresher 05:07am, 04/21/2014

    Jamie Dimon never held me hostage.


    In fact, JPM bonds pay a nice rate these days.

  23. Thresher 05:05am, 04/21/2014

    Late one night, two young toughs hold hostage the passengers in one car of a New York subway train.

  24. Clarence George 04:58am, 04/21/2014

    I’ll add, if I may, that violent crime is about as bad as it gets.  The ultimate objective is not to rob, say, but to humiliate and shame.  This is very well depicted in a harrowing movie, “The Incident.”

  25. Clarence George 04:17am, 04/21/2014

    Ha!  Well, that’s a different kind of evil.  I used to work with guys like that.  While there were certainly exceptions, no shortage of them had the moral compass of NAMBLA members.  Which reminds me of what Woody Allen said in “Annie Hall” about politicians, that their ethics are “like a notch underneath child molester.”

  26. Robert Ecksel 03:56am, 04/21/2014

    Carter may have been a vicious thug, I don’t dispute that, but not as vicious a thug as Jamie Dimon or Lloyd Blankfein.

  27. Clarence George 02:52am, 04/21/2014

    Never cared for or about Carter, either as a man or a boxer, and certainly not as a symbol of supposed injustice or a shill for self-serving and nefarious political purposes.  Although not quite as egregious as the Mumia Abu-Jamal case, Carter’s was bad enough.  Never understood the concept of thug as martyr (though I can see why people like John Dillinger and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Al Capone enjoyed some degree of folk-hero status).  And Carter was indeed a vicious and violent thug.

    Was he also a murderer?  The jury’s still out, so to speak, and I suspect always will be.  There’s no doubt that the investigation was badly botched, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he wasn’t guilty.  I’m reminded somewhat of the Alice Crimmins case.  The police were incompetent and the prosecutor’s office vindictive.  She never should have been convicted on the evidence presented; besides, I don’t think she was guilty.  The difference, of course, is that Alice never had her praises sung as victim of “The Man” and was never used as an organ to speak “truth” to power.

  28. andrew 08:25pm, 04/20/2014

    Murderer who played the celebrity race card. Jack Abbott was a white example also known as Mailer’s folly.

  29. Matt McGrain 06:22pm, 04/20/2014

    One hell of a life.

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