The Inspirational Story of Boxer Rubin Hurricane Carter
Hatred and bitterness and anger only consume the vessel that contains them. It doesn’t hurt another soul.— Rubin "Hurricane" Carter
Rubin Carter was locked up for years for a crime he didn’t commit
During the early 1960s, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was one of the best middleweight fighters around – he even beat the future champion of the world. Then Carter’s world came crashing down when he was tried and convicted of murdering three people.
while imprisoned, Carter wrote and published his autobiography and his tragic story became a cause célèbre – even Bob Dylan wrote a song about him. Finally, in 1985, a federal judge, upon further review of the evidence, ruled that Carter should be released after spending nearly 20 years in prison.
Whether or not you're a box fan, you will probably enjoy Carter's inspirational story.
Please keep reading!
Rubin Carter grew up in Patterson, New Jersey. At the age of 11, Carter was convicted of assault and sent to a juvenile reformatory. After eight years of incarceration, Carter escaped in 1954 and joined the army, when he started boxing for the U.S. Army.
But eventually the authorities caught up with Carter and sent him back to the reformatory. Shortly after Carter was released, he was arrested for robbery and assault and sent to an adult prison, where he remained until 1961.
Professional Boxing Career
Carter was short for a boxer, five-foot-eight, but had a powerful build. He fought his entire career as a middleweight (155 to 160 lbs.). Having great punching power, particularly with his famous left hook, Carter knocked out many fighters in the early rounds of fights, impressing many boxing enthusiasts. In 1963, The Ring magazine listed Carter as one of the best 10 middleweights in the world.
Perhaps Carter’s biggest claim to fame as a boxer was when he knocked out former welterweight champion and future middleweight champion, Emile Griffith. Carter knocked down Griffith twice in the first round and then the referee stopped the fight.
Also of note, Carter fought a 15-round championship bout against Joey Giardello in 1964. Carter staggered Giardello in the fourth round but couldn't finish him off. Then Giardello won a unanimous decision.
Carter’s career went into decline thereafter. He sustained many losses, though against first-rate talent such as Dick Tiger, who pummeled Carter throughout the fight, giving Carter the worst beating of his career. Carter’s boxing record concluded at 27 wins, 12 losses and one draw, with 19 knockouts.
In June of 1966, Rubin Carter and John Artis (both black men) were arrested for murdering two people and wounding two others. Reportedly, the assailants, two black men, walked into the Lafayette Bar and Grill in Patterson, New Jersey and opened fire with a 12-gauge shotgun and .32-caliber handgun, and then drove off in a white car. One man and a woman survived the attack, though the woman only lived another month. But the man and the woman never identified Carter or Artis as the murderers.
However, a petty thief named Alfred Bello and his accomplice Arthur Bradley, both of whom were helping commit a burglary that night near the bar, later identified Carter and Artis as the killers. (Bello and Bradley were white.) Also, two other witnesses saw the assailants flee the scene in a white car. This white car looked something like Carter’s car, which Artis was driving when he and Carter were picked up by the police about 30 minutes after the murders.
Incidentally, one of these two other witnesses, an old woman, said she saw Bello steal money from the cash register after the murders had taken place.
Little physical evidence linked Carter and Artis to the crimes. During the search of Carter’s car, investigators found a .32-caliber bullet under the front seat and a 12-gauge shotgun shell in the trunk. In the first trial, Carter’s defense attorney pointed out this ammunition wasn’t logged-in with the property clerk at the police department until five days after it was found.
One might think the suspects could have been checked for gunshot residue, but the police department didn’t have the facilities to provide a paraffin test.
Moreover, Carter and Artis had no ironclad alibi - they left the bar about the time the murders took place. Artis drove Carter’s car because Carter had consumed too much alcohol.
Carter and Artis claimed their innocence, but based on the evidence, they were convicted of murder and given life sentences in prison.
In 1974, Bello and Bradley recanted their testimonies, so Carter and Artis were granted a retrial. At the trial, Bello decided to testify against Carter and Artis anyway, but Bradley refused to cooperate with the prosecution. Moreover, it had been revealed before the trial than Bello and Bradley had cut a deal with the police, whereby they were granted immunity for the attempted burglary in exchange for testifying against Carter and Artis.
Interestingly, the juries for both trials were all white.
Unfortunately for Carter and Artis, they were convicted again, though their defense attorneys continued to appeal.
While incarcerated, Rubin Carter spent his time writing his autobiography, The Sixteenth Round: From Number One Contender to Number 45472, published in 1975. Carter’s seemingly wrongful conviction eventually drew the attention of celebrities such as Muhammad Ali and, particularly, Bob Dylan, who wrote a song about Carter entitled, “Hurricane.” Interestingly, this ballad provides a narrative of the events leading to the arrest and conviction of Carter – it wasn’t simply some pop tune with a catchy chorus!
Somehow, Carter mellowed in prison. Writing and meditation helped, it seemed.
Release and Life on the Outside
Although John Artis was released on parole in 1981, Carter still languished in prison. Finally, in 1985, a federal judge released Carter from prison because he said the case had been "predicated upon an appeal to racism rather than reason, and concealment rather than disclosure."
After spending nearly 20 years in prison, Rubin Hurricane Carter was a free man at the age of 48!
Since then, Carter has spent his time working as an inspirational speaker and, from 1993 to 2005, was executive director of the Association in Defense of the Wrongfully Convicted.
Denzel Washington starred in a movie about the life of Rubin Carter. The Hurricane (1999) is based on Carter’s autobiography and the nonfiction book, Lazarus and the Hurricane: The Freeing of Rubin Hurricane Carter by Sam Chaiton and Terry Swinton. The important thing to remember is that the movie is a fictionalization, not a documentary. The producers of the film used creative license, that is, they ignored some facts and altered characterizations. For instance, the discovery of the bullet and shotgun rounds in Carter’s car weren’t mentioned in the movie.
Also, Chief Detective Vincent J. DeSimone Jr., played by Vincent Della Pesca, was portrayed as a bigot who hated Rubin Carter and also insinuated that he falsified evidence in Carter’s case. Moreover, at one point in the film, Pesca, playing DeSimone, warns the three white people closely involved in Carter’s appeals process to stop helping Carter or else face reprisals. Actually, there was no proof that the real-life Detective DeSimone was a bigot who hated Carter, falsified evidence or threatened anybody.
Of course, this sort of thing is done all the time in Hollywood – most movies need a bad guy!
It’s too bad Rubin Carter had his boxing career and much of his life destroyed by this miscarriage of justice. Of course, innocent people are convicted all the time – how much is anyone’s guess. Let’s all be glad Carter got out of prison while he still had many years of freedom to enjoy.
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© 2013 Kelley Marks