April 21, 2014, 2:57 am
Former middleweight contender Rubin “Hurricane” Carter died today after a lengthy battle with prostate cancer. He was 76.
Born in New Jersey, Carter spent much of his youth in and out of detention facilities. Carter would pick up boxing while serving in the Army and would turn pro in 1961. He would rise through middleweight ranks rapidly and even held a victory over future heavyweight champion Jimmy Ellis. However, Carter was unsuccessful in wresting the WBA/WBC Middleweight Championship from Joey Giardello in 1964.
Carter’s ring career came to an end when he and his friend John Artis were arrested and charged with murdering three people at a bar in Paterson, New Jersey, in June 1966. Despite a lack of physical evidence and unreliable eyewitness testimony, both Carter and Artis were convicted and sentenced to multiple life terms.
In 1975, Carter would publish his autobiography The Sixteenth Round. It would soon come to the attention of Bob Dylan who along with Jacques Levy co-wrote the song “Hurricane.” The publicity from the song earned Carter and Artis a second trial, but they were again convicted. Carter also lost public sympathy when he was accused of beating a woman named Carolyn Kelley who had also been instrumental in getting Carter a new trial.
In the early 1980s, Carter was contacted by members of a commune in Toronto after a teenager named Lesra Martin, who was living in the commune, read The Sixteenth Round. The commune members spent years poring over Carter’s case and helped him prepare a writ of habeas corpus. Their efforts would pay off when the petition was granted by federal judge H. Lee Sarokin in 1985. Both Carter and Artis’ convictions were set aside and prosecutors in New Jersey declined to reinstate the charges for a third time in 1988. Much of this was depicted in The Hurricane, the 1999 biopic starring Denzel Washington as Carter which was directed by Norman Jewison.
After his conviction was set aside, Carter married one of the commune members and moved to Toronto. However, Carter and the commune members would have a falling out in the mid-1990s. Carter went so far as not to even mention the commune members in his 2011 autobiogrpahy Eye of the Hurricane: My Path from Darkness to Freedom. At the time of this book’s publication there were still those who believed that Carter was guilty of the murders. He would spend most of his years in Canada advocating on behalf of the wrongfully convicted.