Rubin Carter

From Academic Kids

Rubin "Hurricane" Carter (born May 6, 1937), middleweight boxer from 1961 - 1966, is better known for his controversial convictions (1967, 1976) for the murder of three people at the Lafayette Grill in June, 1966, and his subsequent release from prison (1985).

The question of Carter’s guilt or innocence remains a strongly polarizing one, however, this much is certain: either the criminal justice system imprisoned an innocent man for almost 20 years, or it released a triple murderer from the punishment that two separate juries had recommended.


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 the reformatory in 1954 and joined the United States Army at age 17. Several months after he completed infantry basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, he was shipped to Germany, where, according to his 1974 autobiography, he became interested 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, the Army discharged him as "unfit for military service", well short of his scheduled date of separation.

Shortly after his return to New Jersey, Carter was arrested for his reformatory escape, and served an additional year; he was released in 1957. Less than two months later - and probably after drinking heavily - Carter robbed and brutally beat three people, including a middle-aged woman. For these crimes, Carter spent four years in Trenton State Prison and Rahway State Prison.

Boxing career

While in prison, Carter resumed his interest in boxing, and promptly upon his release in September 1961, turned professional. His aggressive style and punching power (which resulted in many early-round knockouts) drew attention, establishing him as a crowd favorite and earning him the nickname “Hurricane”. When he decisioned perennial contender Holley Mims on December 22, 1962, he entered Ring Magazine's list of the top 10 middleweights.

He fought six times in 1963, winning four and losing two. He remained ranked in the lower regions of the top 10 until December 20, when he surprised the boxing world by knocking out past and future world champion Emile Griffith in the first round.

That win resulted in Carter being ranked as the #3 contender for Joey Giardello's 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, but the judges awarded Giardello a unanimous decision. Most of the press concurred; an informal poll conducted among sportswriters at ringside showed that 14 of 18 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 out of five fights against top contenders (Luis Manuel Rodriguez, Harry Scott and Dick Tiger). Tiger, in particular, had no problem with the Hurricane, flooring him three times in their match.

In his autobiography, British boxing promoter Mickey Duff describes an event that occurred during Carter's 1965 visit to London for one of his two bouts with British boxer Harry Scott. Carter brought a pistol into the country, concealed in his suitcase, and discharged it in his hotel room. The hotel did not report the incident to the police, although private possession of handguns was then illegal in Great Britain.

Carter’s boxing did not improve during 1966, and by that summer, Ring Magazine no longer ranked him among the top ten middleweight contenders.

Convictions and appeals

On June 17, 1966, at about 2:30 AM, two black males entered the Lafayette Bar and Grill in Paterson, NJ, and started shooting. The bartender and one male customer were killed instantly. A badly-wounded female customer died almost a month later, while a third customer survived the attack, despite being shot in the head and losing the sight in one eye. Carter and a companion, John Artis, were brought to the scene and questioned extensively before being released. There was little physical evidence, and no eyewitness identified Carter or Artis as the killers.

However, several months later, two petty criminals named Alfred Bello and Arthur Dexter Bradley - who had been near the Lafayette that same night – identified the two black males that they claimed to have seen carrying weapons outside the bar as Carter and Artis. This, plus the identification of Carter's car by another witness, and the presence in Carter's car of ammunition similar to that used in the murders, convinced an all-white jury that Carter and Artis were the killers. Both men were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Carter maintained his innocence, and over the next nine years won increasing public support for a retrial or pardon. Bob Dylan wrote and performed a song, called "The Hurricane", which expressed the view that Carter was innocent. Meanwhile, Carter's supporters persuaded Bello and Bradley to recant, or retract the stories they had told at the 1967 trial.

While the recantations failed to produce a retrial, additional evidence surfaced at the same time, and in 1976 the New Jersey Supreme Court granted Carter and Artis a new trial. Although Bello's credibility was questionable, he repeated his 1967 trial testimony, and that, plus the ammunition and the identification of Carter's automobile, produced yet another conviction, this time from a racially mixed jury. Carter and Artis were again sentenced to life in prison.

Carter and his supporters continued to appeal his conviction on various grounds. In 1985, H. Lee Sarokin, a United States District Court judge ruled that Carter and Artis had not received a fair trial, and ordered the convictions set aside. It is however believed that despite the best attempts of his children to make His Honor listen to "The Hurricane", and cast a verdict of Not Guilty, Judge Sarokin refused to be coerced and rendered his verdict in the appropriate manner. It's unkown whether he listened to the song after his verdict was announced

Although they could have tried the two a third time, Passaic County prosecutors chose not to. Witnesses had disappeared or died, the cost would have been extremely high, and even a conviction would have produced little result; Artis, for example, had already been paroled. In 1988, the original indictment was dismissed, leaving Carter and Artis as free men.

Movie adaptation

Denzel Washington starred in a 1999 movie about Carter's life, called “The Hurricane”; critics generally praised Washington's performance, and he was nominated for an Oscar. Although the movie billed itself as “based on a true story”, the film’s makers took significant liberties with the facts, and the movie became almost as controversial as Carter himself. For example, in the movie's opening sequence, Carter pummels Joey Giardello around the ring, but loses the fight as the result of the judges' racism. Offended by this portrayal of a fight he had clearly won, Giardello sued the movie's producers for libel. The case was settled before trial, with the producers paying the retired champion a significant sum (reportedly $300,000).

The movie distorts other areas of Carter’s life. Washington appears in full uniform on-screen, a decorated veteran wearing medals that Carter himself never earned. The movie omits any mention of Carter’s 1957 conviction and 4-year imprisonment for assault and robbery, and sanitizes the various crimes he committed as a juvenile.

The movie also depicts the detective who investigated Carter for the murders ("Vincent Della Pesca") as a Javert-like, obsessed racist who falsified evidence, threatened witnesses, and sabotaged an automobile belonging to Carter’s supporters. In reality, the lead detective on the case, Vincent DeSimone, was a decorated World War II veteran and an outstanding police officer who rose through the ranks on merit to become Chief of County Detectives. DeSimone was however one of many racists within the Paterson Judiciary at the time.

Various newspaper articles have suggested that the controversy over the film’s accuracy may have cost Washington the Oscar.

Artis after being released on parole in 1985 was jailed again in 1986 when he pled guilty to dealing cocaine. Now a social worker, he works with troubled youths in Virginia.

Carter has lived in Canada since 1988, and now makes his living as a motivational speaker.

Carter's career record in boxing was 27 wins, 12 losses and one draw in 40 fights, with 19 knockouts.

External links

sv:Ruben Carter de:Rubin Carter


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