Rubin "Hurricane" Carter
The wrongful conviction of Rubin Carter is an embodiment of a deeply rooted legacy of racial prejudice ingrained in the American justice system. Carter, known as “Hurricane” for his fierce boxing style that led him to fame and contention for the middleweight title at the peak of his career, lost almost 20 years of his life to imprisonment for the alleged murder of three white victims of a bar in Paterson, New Jersey. After two trials, two convictions, and the prospect of serving two life sentences, all seemed lost for Carter. That is until founding partner Myron Beldock, along with the BLH team, fought for and achieved retribution for the racially charged prosecutorial misconduct that stripped “the Hurricane” of so many years.
On the night of June 17, 1966, two men entered a bar in Paterson, New Jersey, one holding a 12-gauge shotgun, and the other holding a .32 caliber pistol. The assailants opened fire, killing a bartender and a man sitting at the bar, and critically injuring another two patrons, one of which would soon die from complications from the gunshot wound. Two witnesses reported seeing the two perpetrators flee the scene in a white car. Within hours, Carter and his friend John Artis, a 19-year-old student athlete with no criminal record, were pulled over and immediately taken to the hospital to be identified by one of the victims. The man, upon looking at Carter and Artis, immediately shook his head no. They were released. About four months later, however, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and John Artis were arrested and charged for the three murders.
Following the highly publicized riots in Watts and Harlem at the offset of the 1960’s, during which thirteen black adolescents were killed at the hands of police officers, Carter became publicly outspoken about racial issues that were so pertinent in the United States at the time. This only magnified Carter’s distinctly negative reputation in the predominantly white, working-class town of Paterson, New Jersey, a reputation rooted in his troubled adolescence. Therefore, when the first trial commenced at the Passaic County Court in Paterson with a jury including only one person of color, the outcome certainly looked bleak for Carter and Artis.
The prosecution formulated a theory that established the shooting as racial retribution for the murder of a black bartender by a white man earlier that evening. This claim directly played into Carter’s public image and the disdain for his outspokenness regarding race in America. Despite distinctively weak evidence from the state, no murder weapon found, no bloodstains on any of Carter’s or Artis’ belongings, and several significant descriptive disparities, the jury found Carter and Artis guilty on all charges after only two hours of deliberation. Both men were sentenced to life in prison.
Just under seven years into his sentencing, Carter completed and published a memoir of his life detailing the journey of becoming a prized fighter to an incarcerated inmate serving a life sentence for a killing spree that he did not commit. The book invigorated a vast public interest and support for “Hurricane,” seen through the Hurricane Trust Fund, which raised nearly $600,000 to fund the legal fees for Carter in hopes for another trial and attracted the support of superstars such as Muhammad Ali and Stevie Wonder. Bob Dylan’s famed protest ballad “Hurricane,” which reprimanded the racists implications of the false arrest and imprisonment of Rubin Carter was also instrumental in attracting national attention to his case and transforming him into a global symbol of injustice.
In 1976, the Supreme Court of New Jersey overturned the murder convictions of Rubin Carter and John Artis following the discovery of a tape recorded interview with Alfred Bello, a convicted robber and star witness for the prosecution. The tape revealed state officials guaranteeing Bello a shorter sentence in return for a testimony that would identify Carter and Artis as the assailants. Despite the discovery of the tape, Bello was still allowed to testify, and “Hurricane” Carter and John Artis were once again convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
In 1985, following nearly a decade of failed attempts at appealing for retrial, including a New Jersey Supreme Court rejection by a 4-3 decision in 1982, Myron Beldock and Carter’s legal team made one final charge at justice and submitted a brief which called for a writ of habeas. U.S. District Judge H. Lee Sarokin, the chief justice of the case, found that the convictions of both Rubin Carter and John Artis “were predicated upon an appeal to racism rather than reason, and concealment rather than disclosure.” The withheld evidence, violation of constitutional rights, and blatant use of racially charged theories were finally recognized by Judge Sarokin after 19 years of incarceration, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was exonerated and released.