Toronto, Canada (4E) – Former middleweight boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who was wrongly convicted for a 1966 triple murder in New Jersey but exonerated after 19 years of imprisonment, died Sunday in Toronto at the age of 76 due to prostate cancer.
Carter’s death was confirmed by his friend John Artis, who was also wrongly accused for the murders and served as the boxer’s caregiver the last two years.
Carter’s boxing career was overshadowed by his 1966-1985 battle to exonerate himself, for which a song was made by Bob Dylan and later a Denzel Washington-starrer 1999 movie, The Hurricane.
Carter earned his first assault conviction at age 14 in his former hometown in Paterson, NJ. He
became a boxer at 17 while in the Army winning 51 of 56 bouts. He committed robbery and assault in 1957 and served 4-1/2 years at the Rahway State Prison. After the jail time, he became a professional boxer in 1961. An intimidating ring presence, ferocious style, and knockout punch saw him defeat 15 straight opponents, 11 by knockout. In 1962, after a first-round knockout win at the State Garden in Union City, a journalist gave him the moniker Hurricane.
In 1966, four people were gunned down at a Paterson restaurant with three dying later from their wound. The suspects were two black men. Carter and Artis, who were driving nearby, were arrested. Police showed them to the shooting victim in the hospital but the latter said they were not the attackers. There was no other physical evidence linking Carter and Artis to the shooting.
Two white eyewitnesses, Alfred Bello and Arthur Dexter Bradley, pointed to the two as the gunmen and an all-white jury convicted Carter and Artis for consecutive life sentences. While serving time at the Trenton State Prison, he wrote an autobiography, The Sixteenth Round. The memoir inspired public defender Fred Hogan to look into his case.
After Hogan got Bello to recant his testimonies against Carter, support for the ex-boxer grew with celebrities, including Muhammad Ali, joining calls for his retrial, which the state supreme court ordered in 1967. Bello recanted his recantation and his book was used to describe Carter as hostile to whites. Carter and Artis were convicted and sent to prison on Dec. 22, 1976. Artis earned his parole in 1981.
From the encouragement of a Brooklyn teenager, Carter resumed his battle to exonerate himself in 1980. The teenage boy’s family in Toronto helped Carter prove his innocence by citing prosecutorial misconduct. Finally, on Nov. 7, 1985, U.S. District Court Judge H. Lee Sarokin ruled that Carter’s constitutional rights to due process were violated, and overturned the convictions. Carter was freed at age 48 and relocated to Toronto. He co-founded a group that helped the wrongly convicted.