Boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter on Trial for Murder

State v. Carter, 363 A.2d 366 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 1976)

Rubin Carter was born in New Jersey in 1937. At age 11, he stabbed a man with a Boy Scout knife and was sent to a juvenile reformatory. In 1954, Carter escaped the reformatory, joined the Army, and took up boxing. Upon his dishonorable discharge from the military, Carter returned to Jersey in 1956 and was arrested for robbery and assault. From his release in 1961 until his imprisonment for murder, Carter pursued a promising career as a professional middleweight, his style so furious and distinctive he earned the nickname “Hurricane.” But he reached his peak early and was on the downslide, having lost his one and only title fight, when everything changed.

On June 17, 1966, two men shot up the Lafayette Bar and Grill in Paterson, New Jersey. The bartender and a customer were killed; two other customers were badly wounded, and one later died. Rubin Carter and his sometime friend John Artis—who had no criminal record—were arrested while driving the streets of Paterson, largely because Carter’s car resembled that of the murderers. Police found an unspent .32 caliber bullet and a 12-gauge shotgun shell in Carter’s car that could have been used in the crime. The city’s police department offered cash rewards for information and two career criminals—who had been committing burglary in the neighborhood at the time of the murders—agreed to testify.

Carter and Artis were convicted in May 1967. The two eyewitnesses recanted in 1974. Carter and Artis were freed for a new trial, but then one eyewitness recanted his recantation. The second jury found Carter and Artis guilty again in 1976, but in 1985, Judge H. Lee Sarokin overturned the conviction on the grounds of constitutional violations. Carter was free, and a hero, and the subject of a song by Bob Dylan (who wrote his lyrics after being provided with clippings by activists fighting for Carter’s release). Rubin Carter died on April 20, 2014, after three decades of lobbying for justice in cases of wrongful conviction and enjoying a career as a motivational speaker.