Former pro boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, whose career was cut short by a wrongful murder conviction that caused him to spend nearly two decades in federal prison, died Sunday following a battle with prostate cancer, the Associated Press reported:
He was 76.
Carter had been battling terminal cancer since 2011. John Artis, the friend wrongfully accused alongside Carter for the murders, was his primary caretaker throughout the illness.
A former No. 1 contender who compiled a 27-12-1 record in 40 fights, Carter was thrust into the spotlight after being convicted of a triple murder in 1966. Carter and Artis were arrested in June of that year after witnesses identified them as the gunmen in a shooting of two people at the Lafayette Bar and Grill in Paterson, N.J.
As noted by Mark Gollom of CBC News, the two men repeatedly claimed they were innocent, passed lie-detector tests and did not even match the description of the alleged shooters. But in 1967, at a time when racial unrest was peaking throughout the country, an all-white jury convicted Carter and sentenced him to three consecutive life sentences.
But Carter's story was far from over.
Witnesses, notably Alfred Bello and Arthur Dexter Bradley, later recanted their confessions, leading to a long litigation battle that carved up decades of Carter's life. After the New Jersey Supreme Court overruled the initial convictions, Carter and Artis were granted a second trial only to be found guilty again—largely on the testimony of Bello, who had reverted back to his original story.
While in prison, Carter wrote The Sixteenth Round: From Number 1 Contender to Number 45472, an autobiographical tale that detailed his fall from young, up-and-coming boxer to federal inmate. The book is considered one of the seminal pieces of literature in wrongful convictions.
The incident inspired both the Bob Dylan song "Hurricane" and the high-budget 1999 film The Hurricane, in which Denzel Washington portrayed Carter, per Jeff Gray of The Globe and Mail.
The book, along with the sketchy details surrounding Carter's conviction, led to widespread coverage of the case and prompted multiple prominent figures to speak out on his behalf. In the boxing community, folks ranging as high as Muhammad Ali lent their names to causes that pushed for a retrial.
The second conviction seemingly put an end to the fight, but persistence of Carter and his allies eventually won out. In 1985, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that Carter's conviction was based "upon an appeal to racism rather than reason and concealment rather than disclosure" and immediately freed him, per the Associated Press.
"I wouldn't give up," Carter said in a 2011 interview with PBS, per the AP. "No matter that they sentenced me to three life terms in prison. I wouldn't give up. Just because a jury of 12 misinformed people...found me guilty did not make me guilty. And because I was not guilty, I refused to act like a guilty person."
With nearly two decades of litigation behind him, prosecutors declined to go through a third trial and allowed Carter to remain free. He spent his remaining years as a staunch advocate against wrongful convictions and as a symbol of many of the racial injustices of the 1960s. Carter's post-prison career consisted of speaking engagements and multiple honors for his bravery.
In the ring, Carter was known for packing every ounce of strength he had into each punch and fighting to the last second of every round. His nickname "Hurricane" was not only apt in describing his life, but was indicative of the terror he inflicted on opponents. Nineteen of his 27 victories came via knockout.
Carter remained an inspiration to many until his dying day, a symbol of what can happen when one fights against injustice. In February, Carter's last public comments were not ones of self-pity, but words fighting against the conviction of David McCallum in a New York Daily News op-ed.
Down to his last day, Carter remained a fighter and a true inspiration.
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