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Rubin "Hurricane" Carter
The movie The Hurricane portrays Rubin "Hurricane" Carter as a black man wronged by a racist justice system. But Carter is a fraud and so was the movie, from beginning to end.
by Lona Manning
Most people who know about the Hurricane Carter case only know the Hollywood version presented in the movie starring Denzel Washington. The Hurricane, released in 1999, features crooked, lying, racist cops and frightened witnesses who won't come forward. Carter himself is brash but noble, persecuted his whole life by one obsessed detective who keeps sending him to jail.
The real Rubin Carter and the real Lafayette Grill murder case are nothing like the movie. This movie bills itself as being about hope and redemption. The movie, in terms of Carter and the actual murders at the Lafayette Grill, is a fraud from beginning to end, full of errors, distortions and fictions, large and small. Some events were invented to add dramatic excitement, but most of the distortions and misrepresentations appear to be attempts to place a halo over Carter's head and paint horns and a tail on the police. If this was director Norman Jewison's attempt to right one of the legions of wrongs of a justice system riddled with racism, he picked the wrong case. Once Jewison had made that mistake in judgment, his need to fabricate the truth took over.
The following incidents from the movie, for example, are not true – and this is just a partial list:
- The biggest and most crucial distortion the movie serves up is that one evil, racist Paterson lieutenant had it in for Carter. The movie depicts this cop doing his best to destroy Carter at every crucial turn in Carter's life, from age 11 on. This distortion allows movie audiences to make the leap of faith that Carter and co-defendant John Artis were framed and therefore innocent. There was a lead detective in the Lafayette Grill case by the name of Vincent DeSimone. He had nothing to do with Carter's earlier convictions.
- The Canadians (a group of nine people who lived and worked together in a commune-type setting; all were involved in Carter's case, but the three principally involved were Sam Chaiton, Terry Swinton, and Lisa Peters) did not find evidence that proves Carter is innocent or that Carter was framed, and neither has anybody else. His release had nothing to do with proving the case was built on "forgeries and lies," as the lawyers for Carter claim in the final courtroom scene.
- Evil detectives did not threaten the Canadians on the street and did not tamper with their car. It bears repeating: the Canadians were not the victims of an attempted murder by New Jersey law enforcement.
- Carter was not 11 when he and a group of his friends encountered a middle-aged white man, depicted as a maniacal pedophile in the movie, at the Great Falls. He was 14 when he was convicted for clubbing the man over the head with a bottle and robbing him of his watch, which was valued at $55. It was Carter's fourth juvenile offence. Carter was an experienced and savage street fighter, the leader of a gang called the Apaches. Anyone would have thought twice before tangling with him.
- Carter did not leave the Army wearing a uniform covered with good conduct and service ribbons. The record shows he was discharged, with the designation "unfit," after four courts-martial for: "disobeying a lawful order (three times), failure to make reveille, disrespectful in language to a non-commissioned officer and treating his superior officer with contempt."
- Carter was returned to prison after he left the Army to finish his juvenile term, but the movie completely omits another four-year stint in prison, for mugging three people. Carter was twice denied parole because of his hostility and aggression. The detective who arrested Carter for the mugging couldn't have been motivated by racism – the detective was black.
- Carter's world championship bout in 1964 with Joey Giardello was not a slam-dunk case of racist "fixing." Giardello sued the producers of the movie for their portrayal of the fight and recently settled out of court.
- When the police stopped Carter and Artis on the night of the shooting, Carter was not sitting up front beside Artis, he was lying down in the back seat. Plus there was another man in the car, sitting opposite Artis in the front seat.
- It's true that the police questioned Al Bello, the petty thief who was a witness at the murder scene, with a tape recorder rolling. In this crucial scene, we watch as the evil detective half bribes, half threatens Bello into framing Carter for the murder. The Hollywood writers ignored what was really said (see later in this article), and substituted a scene of menace and innuendo.
- Prison guards did not try to "toss" Carter's cell and take away his "manuscript" for his autobiography, The 16th Round, in 1973. The opening scene in the movie is a distortion of a 1974 incident when prison guards took Carter to the Vroom Psychiatric Unit as punishment for holding an unauthorized inmates' meeting. Prison officials were also worried about Carter's mental state, as he had recently referred to himself as "God." His manuscript, at that time, was safely in the hands of his publishers.
- There was an Avery Cockersham. His wife Louisa is the character in the movie who invites three of the Canadians, including Lisa Peters, into her house and gives them cookies and explains that the bartender at the Lafayette wasn't a bigot. The real Avery Cockersham didn't "move away and couldn't be found;" he didn't die before the trial. If the Cockershams had useful information for the defense, they didn't step forward and give it.
- The prosecution didn't claim that Rubin Carter killed the Lafayette Grill victims just because the bartender wouldn't serve blacks. The movie is completely misleading on this point. (The "racial revenge" motive is discussed further in this article under the coverage of the trials.)
- The jury for the second trial in 1976, which is scarcely mentioned in the movie, was not all white. It included two blacks.
- The Canadians did not find the diary of a dead investigator.
- In the movie, the Canadians find a telephone time card. They try to interview Jean Wall, the operator, about the time of the murder call, but she says that if she were asked to testify, she would say that she couldn't remember. Then she runs into her house, frightened and angry. The real Jean Wall testified at the first trial that she received a call reporting the murders at around 2:30.
- In the movie, the evil detective has altered the time of the call on the card. But, a big deal is made in the movie about how the evidence could never be used in court. And it never was. If it had, it would have been laughed out the door. There's no mystery about the time of the murders and the forged time card is a product of the Canadians' overheated imaginations.
As New Jersey columnist Paul Mulshine points out, "The movie seems to lie compulsively." For example, when the police pull Carter and Artis over on the fateful night, the writers chose to have Denzel Washington say to Garland Whitt, the actor playing Artis, "John -- you been drinking?" to which Whitt replies, "No."
Artis testified at trial that he'd been drinking heavily that night and that he had thrown up earlier. Why doesn't his character say, "Uh, oh -- got a breath mint?"
Evil detective Della Pesca, the movie's version of Lt. DeSimone, is an ugly, leering guy. The real-life detective was a little sensitive about his looks. He'd taken a bullet in the face during World War II. The movie of course, doesn't mention that the reason the detective wasn't a beauty contest winner was because he was a war hero. (DeSimone, who rose to become chief of detectives in Paterson, died in 1979.)
There are lots of other things the movie doesn't mention, like:
- Carter's troubles with his alibi witnesses, and his alibi;
- the supporter who says Carter beat her into unconsciousness while Carter was out on bail awaiting the second trial;
- the accusation that some of his supporters bribed prosecution witnesses to
change their testimony;
- the fact that Carter no longer speaks to the Canadians who devoted so much time and effort to freeing him.
The fact is that Carter was not exonerated for the Lafayette Grill murders, as Carter claims. Two juries, one convened in 1967 after the murders and the other at a retrial nine years later, found him guilty as charged. A federal judge overturned both of his trial convictions on the grounds that Carter did not get fair trials. New Jersey prosecutors, for reasons not related to Carter's guilt or innocence, declined to re-try him a third time and dismissed the indictment against him. They did unsuccessfully pursue their appeal of the federal judge's ruling all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. (Click Here to view the appeal brief.)
Nevertheless, Carter is always referred to as the man who was wrongfully convicted for a crime he didn't commit. He was framed, says the Bob Dylan ballad. "This man is love," declared Denzel Washington, who invited Carter up on stage with him when Washington accepted his Golden Globe award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Carter in The Hurricane.
IS CARTER INNOCENT?
But is Carter innocent? Questioning Carter's innocence, after he has been portrayed on-screen by Denzel Washington, after he has stood, beaming and triumphant, with his honorary World Boxing Council belt raised over his head, may seem like questioning whether black people are victims of racism and injustice. But this is a case about one man, not an entire race of people. Everything the public knows about the fateful night and the trials that followed comes from Rubin Carter or his supporters. And Carter is not, as a moment's reflection will make anyone realize, an impartial observer of events. There is a prosecution side to the story, one that has been ignored or hidden for a long time. As well, there are revelations about Rubin Carter himself, his violent past and his credibility, that were nowhere to be seen in the movie.
It's time now to discard what the movie contends and take a fresh look at the real Hurricane Carter and the three people murdered execution-style at the Lafayette Grill in the early mornings hours of June 17, 1966.
For a case that's consumed two trials, twenty appeals, and millions of dollars in legal costs, the basic facts of the Lafayette Grill murders are sparse and flimsy.
Here's the prosecution case in a nutshell: Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, then 29, a middleweight boxer, and John Artis, a 19-year-old facing the military draft, entered a bar and shot four white people in retaliation for the murder earlier that evening of a black bartender by a white shooter. Eyewitness testimony placed Carter and Artis at the scene and also identified Carter's leased car, a white Dodge. The murder weapons were never recovered, although bullets that were not the same brand but were the same caliber as the bullets used in the killings were found in Carter's car hours after the murders.
As for the defense, some observers of the case have criticized the police for a lax investigation. Police did not conduct paraffin tests to detect traces of burned gunpowder on the hands or clothes of Carter and Artis. They neglected to take fingerprints at the crime scene or to test the spent shotgun shell found on the bar's floor for fingerprints. They didn't inspect for traces of blood in Carter's Dodge, and didn't even bother to take photos of the skid marks left on the street out in front of the Lafayette Grill when the killers made their screeching getaway. Subsequently, controversial lie detector tests also caused headaches for the prosecution. But Carter and his supporters charge the police with something more serious than sloppy police work. Carter contends that he and Artis were deliberately and maliciously framed for the murders and that the State of New Jersey did everything in its power to send him to the electric chair.
As he tells his audiences in his inspirational stump speeches:
The odds of my being alive today were not exactly in my favor. There were three murder victims. All of them were white. The jury was all white. The police, the judge, the state witnesses and the prosecutors were all white. I, at that time, was black.
THE LAFAYETTE GRILL MURDERS
It's almost closing time at the Lafayette Grill at the corner of Lafayette and 18th Streets in Paterson, N.J. It's early in the morning on June 17, 1966. Only three patrons remain while bartender Jim Oliver, 51, opens the cash register to start counting the day's receipts. It's really a gathering of friends, it's just that one of them happens to be the bartender and the rest are on the other side of the counter. There's Fred Nauyoks, 60, perched on a barstool, lighting up another cigarette and laying out some money for one last drink as he laughs and jokes with Oliver. His wife is out of town and he and Oliver are planning to go to a late night diner for some bacon and eggs.
Outside, a late model white car cruises slowly past the silent houses. Apart from the car, the streets are nearly deserted. Two blocks away, a short, plump, 23-year-old man steps out of the shadows and starts walking up the sidewalk. He glances over his shoulder the way he came, hesitates, then heads to the Lafayette.
Inside the bar, Willie Marins sits nearby, nursing his own drink. Oliver keeps a glass just for Marins, to be sure that his tuberculosis doesn't spread to the other customers. Only 42, Marins is too sick to work, but not too sick to play some pool and pass the night with his buddies at the Lafayette.
The white car passes the short, plump man. The streetlights reflect off the car's shiny paint as it slows further and stops outside of the Lafayette.
The third customer is Hazel Tanis, 51. She's tired, she's been on her feet all evening, serving at a graduation banquet at the country club where she works. She thought her friend, bar owner Betty Panagia, would be behind the counter tonight, and she's dropped by to hand in a deposit for a union convention in Atlantic City. She's earned the trip out of town, and after all, she'll be back home before her daughter's baby is due. Oliver explains that he's covering for his girlfriend Betty because she's been working so hard lately. Hazel sits down at the end of the counter, a little away from the men.
The front door of the bar flies open...Bartender Oliver sees the two men with guns and hurls an empty beer bottle at them that smashes against the wall by the front door. Oliver turns to run and is hit in stride in his lower back by a blast from a .12-guage shotgun. The round opens a two-inch by one-inch hole and severs his spinal cord, killing him instantly. Simultaneously, the man with the pistol shoots Nauyoks, one of two men sitting at the bar, just behind the right ear, hitting his brain stem, killing him instantly as well. The killer with the pistol then moves two stools down and shoots Marins in the left temple. The .32 caliber slug passes through his forehead near his right eye. He stumbles to the floor and plays dead. In the commotion, Hazel Tanis leaves her barstool and crouches in the corner. The man with the shotgun pulls the door back. She screams "No!" just before he empties the other barrel of the shotgun into her upper right arm and shoulder. Now on the floor, she pleads for her life. "I'm a mother. I'm a grandmother. Please don't shoot me." The man with the shotgun tells the man with the pistol to "Finish her off." He discharges the five remaining bullets. Four hit her: one in the right breast, one in the lower abdomen, two in the genital area.
Just a few minutes later, Det. Jim Lawless is home and looking forward to going to bed after a long night gathering evidence and doing paperwork for the murder of a black bartender that occurred six hours earlier at another bar. Lawless's phone rings. It's headquarters. There's been a report of another shooting. The Lafayette. Lawless grabs two guns and heads back out the door. He's the first police officer on the scene.
There's Oliver lying behind his bar, his back blown open. Blood is splattered on the floor, the walls, the bottles, some of the money scattered around his legs. Fred Nauyoks looks like he's resting or he's had one too many, he's just sitting on his barstool, his cigarette burning between his fingers, his head resting on the counter.
Willie Marins is -- Marins is standing up, and walking around, though obviously in shock. Blood trickling out of his eye and down his face. He makes no effort to wipe it off. "I've been shot, I've been shot," he says. He staggers, clutches a pillar for support. The sound of ambulances grows louder and their lights start to flicker through the front window.
Hazel Tanis is lying on the floor, her stomach and intestines visible, blood pulsing out. She looks up at Detective Lawless.
"Please kill me," she says.
Lawless knows each of the victims. Some of them are his neighbors. And there is little he can do for Tanis but direct the ambulance workers to her. What can the ambulance attendant do for her, for that matter -- he's a 17-year-old kid, working for his father, white with shock at what he sees. He almost slips and falls on the blood as he enters the bar. A thin, frightened young woman, Patty Graham Valentine, who lives in the apartment directly above, hovers over Tanis, choking back hysterical sobs. With one hand she holds her raincoat closed over her pajamas. "I called Bob," she tells Tanis. "Everything's going to be O.K."
Officer Unger and his partner Alex Greenough join Lawless. They have a short, plump man in tow. The man is breathless and excited and talking volubly, repeating what he already told the policemen out on the sidewalk. He says his name is Al Bello, B-E-L-L-O, officer, and he was just out to get a pack of cigarettes when he heard a noise. He saw two Negroes come around the corner, laughing and swinging their guns.
One had a pistol and another had a shotgun, Bello says.
And you say these were Negroes?
They've already put out a call for two colored men in a white car.
Did anybody get the plate numbers?
Questioned separately, Bello and Valentine agree that the car had dark license plates, probably New York plates, but they couldn't tell the police the plate numbers.
Get out an all-points bulletin for two colored men in a late model white car with out-of-state plates.
Sgt. Theodore Capter and his partner, Angelo DeChellis, arrive at the scene. A few minutes ago they heard the earlier bulletin and almost immediately spot a white car speeding down 12th Avenue. They overshoot 12th Avenue and drive down a parallel street, hoping to cut the car off, figuring it's heading out of town. But when they get to where 10th Avenue dumps out on the broad boulevard of Route 4, they don't see a white car. They don't see any cars at all on the highway. They turn around and head back into town. Then they see a white car ahead of them with two black men in it and signal it to pull over. No, make that three black men. A third man had been lying down in the back seat. When he sits up, Capter recognizes him. It's Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, the middleweight boxer. They let the car go. It's 2:40 a.m.
At Lafayette and 18th, Capter and DeChellis pick their way through the growing crowd, the other squad cars, the ambulances waiting to carry away the bodies of Nauyoks and Oliver, to where Bello is describing what happened.
They acted so confident that at first he thought they were cops. They saw Bello. In a flash, Bello realized they weren't cops, and that he had just walked into something deadly. Bello turned. He ran and hid in that alley down there. He heard their tires screech. He saw the car pass, saw the out-of-state plates and the butterfly wing shaped taillights set in a geometric design across the back of the car.
Capter looks at DeChellis. DeChellis looks at Capter. They jump back in their patrol car and set out to find Hurricane Carter.
CHAMPION OF THE WORLD
Rubin "Hurricane" Carter was a flamboyant and well-known figure in Paterson. His comings and goings, his boxing matches, his barroom brawls and his court appearances, all made the Morning Call and the Evening News. His scowl and his shining baldhead and his goatee were familiar to most people in Paterson, and definitely to anyone who followed boxing.
Some people who knew Carter's parents, Lloyd and Bertha, marveled at how such a sober, hard-working Baptist couple could have produced a bird of paradise like Carter. Carter liked to wear flashy colored vests and berets and tailored suits and to tool around town in his custom Cadillac. For reasons nobody could understand, Rubin, of all the seven Carter children, was a rebel. "He was the bully," his father admitted to a sportswriter. "He wanted the name." A man who served time with him in reform school remembered that Carter was the kind of boy who would hit another boy over the head with a brick just for laughs. "I just kept getting into trouble," Carter admitted, "and they kept adding time. So I escaped."
After his early discharge from the Army, Carter had to serve out the rest of his juvenile sentence. Upon release, he lasted less than a month in civilian life before his arrest for mugging three people. Prison psychiatrists described him as a sociopath, "almost completely lacking in controls… projecting responsibility for his failures on society and the law."
Once released, Carter embarked on a professional boxing career and after a few hungry months, started to rise rapidly through the ranks.
And he learned that words can be even more powerful than fists. He discovered he enjoyed reading and surprising people with his newfound vocabulary. He relished turning ordinary conversation into colorful poetry: "I believe there's a God. I won't be dogmatic and say there is. I believe, though. Man couldn't do it, that's for sure. Man's so greedy if he put the sun up there he'd be charging $25 a day." A sportswriter reminisced, "He charmed me to the point in 1964 where I took a World Series watch off my wrist and gave it to him."
But Carter was his own worst enemy. His temper, his drinking, his lack of discipline, affected his boxing career. Almost every recap of the Hurricane Carter case mentions that he was "about" to challenge for the middleweight title. The truth was that at the time of the murders, Carter's career was in decline. He had depended on intimidating his opponents and putting them away early with his powerful left hook. He didn't have a lot of boxing technique or staying power in the ring. In his last 14 fights, he lost six and tied one.
A fact that is central to Carter's character – but a fact that has been carefully papered over by his supporters -- is that he's a chronic, inventive, almost compulsive embellisher. He elaborates, changes and exaggerates the events in his life, from his childhood on, and fashions them into dramatic stories. His "autobiography" bears only an accidental resemblance to the truth. This includes crucial details of the murder case. The Dylan song, based on Bob Dylan's interview with Carter, is a catalogue of all the misleading things Carter has said about the Lafayette Grill murders. Carter claims he was basically pulled over because he was black. He says that Marins, who survived the shooting, said he wasn't the shooter. He accuses the police of framing him by bribing Al Bello and Arthur Bradley to testify against him, because he was a "revolutionary bum," that is, a black activist. None of these accusations hold up under scrutiny.
Another aspect of Carter's personality was that he saw himself as a protector and avenger. He claims that when he got into trouble as a youth, he was just looking out for one of his brothers and sisters, or a fellow gang member. He talks openly in his autobiography, The 16th Round, of his hatred for authority and his desire to wreak bloody vengeance:
I wanted to see this insidious juvenile labor system demolished from stem to stern and I wanted to see it happen out of pure hatred and vengeance at atonement for the crimes committed against me, and other just like me… I wanted to be the Administrator of Justice, the Revealer of Truth, the Inflicter of All Retribution. I gloried in these thoughts.
He could inspire fierce loyalty and devotion. Fred Hogan, an investigator in the New Jersey public defender's office, became his first and staunchest advocate when Carter went to prison. Another friend, Thom Kidrin, wrote songs about him and brought him food and visited him for years when everyone else had deserted him. Carter attracted lawyers who gave him years of free legal work. Then there was young Lesra Martin, a black teen from the rough streets of Brooklyn who was taken in by a group of idealistic Canadians and transplanted to their commune in Toronto. Martin found Carter's autobiography at a used book sale and wrote him a letter, thus setting off a chain of events that led the Canadians to take on Carter's case and eventually help him win his release. The movie does not exaggerate the dedication of Martin and the Canadians, who devoted years of their lives to freeing Carter.
Sgts. Capter and DeChellis found Carter's white car a few minutes after hearing Bello's description at the crime scene. This time, Carter's passenger "Bucks" Royster, (an inoffensive neighborhood barfly), was gone, and he and Artis were alone. They were escorted back to the Lafayette, where both Patty Valentine and Al Bello were asked to look at the car. Valentine, then 23, burst into tears when she saw it. Bello said, "That's the car."
Bello, at that point, did not identify either man as the killers he had just seen leaving the bar. But it was clear that they were suspects and Bello got a good look at them when they were brought back by the police. This raises the question of doubt: When Bello, two months later, identified Carter as the shooter to one of the detectives working on the case, was the identification based on what he had actually seen at the time of the shootings, or was he just telling the police what he figured they wanted to hear? Perhaps one clue is offered by testimony from the first trial that, when Bello got home early that morning, he exclaimed to a friend, "Rubin Carter just shot up the whole bar!"
Carter and Artis were questioned at the police station all that morning, then released. There was already plenty of incriminating evidence against them, but motive was missing, along with an eyewitness identification.
The mayor promised a $10,000 reward for information leading to the capture of the killers. Police continued with their investigation, following up other leads, including some red herrings. Big murder cases always seem to attract cranks, confessors, psychics and assorted hangers-on. Due to the inconsistent accusations of a woman named Annie Ruth Haggins, Paterson police dragged all the rivers, because she said that a man gave her a gun to throw in the river right after the shooting. A man named Roosevelt Davis was held in jail for weeks because of her stories, which she finally admitted were baseless.
Rumors were running rampant in Paterson, a mid-sized city that had seen better days and now had troubles with the Mafia, illegal gambling, and prostitution. One theory was that Jim Oliver, the bartender, had been a bookie and the Mob had killed him as a warning to others, not to withhold numbers money. Oliver's family hotly denies that he was involved with the Mob. Also, Elizabeth Panagia, the owner of the Lafayette Grill, not Oliver, had been expected to be at work that night. Oliver was just recovering from surgery.
Carter allegedly told his family that the shootings were an attempt by the Mob to frame him, because he had refused to throw a fight. Considering the circumstances of the murders, however, it seems impossible that the Mob could have arranged to shoot people and arranged for witnesses to see a car that looked like Carter's zoom off, at the same time Carter was driving around five blocks away.
From the beginning, the death of Jim Oliver and his patrons was linked in people's minds with the slaying of Roy Holloway, a black bartender. Six hours before the shootings at the Lafayette Grill, a white man named Frank Conforti had stormed into the Waltz Inn to confront Holloway, who had recently purchased the bar from Conforti, about lax payments. Conforti argued with Holloway, 48, then went to his car, returning a few minutes later. Without saying a word, Conforti shot Holloway in the head with a .12-guage shotgun, killing him instantly. So Oliver's death hours later seemed like more than a coincidence, even though Holloway's death was the result of a business dispute rather than a pure black-versus-white issue.
News of Holloway's gruesome murder raced through the neighborhood, rekindling the racial strife that Paterson had experienced two summers earlier when several riots raged in the black community. Dozens of blacks flocked to the Waltz Inn before police had time to arrest Conforti, who was still inside the bar. Police had to escort the handcuffed Conforti through a gauntlet of angry onlookers to a police car. "Give him to us," some of them shouted.
More pertinent is what Eddie Rawls, Holloway's stepson, did after hearing about the murder. Rawls went to police headquarters where an officer told him not to worry. Rawls, according to grand jury and trial testimony, shouted out a warning that if the police didn't handle the case properly, he would take matters into his own hands. Later that evening, Rawls went to the Nite Spot where he worked as a bartender. The Nite Spot was such a favorite hangout for Carter that the bar had a special "champ's corner" section for the boxer. Artis also frequented the bar and was there that evening. According to trial testimony, Carter was at the Nite Spot when Rawls arrived with the news of his stepfather's slaying. Prosecutors insist that Carter then began talking about wanting to locate guns that had been stolen from him a year earlier. Carter denies this, but in his grand jury testimony he admitted that there was talk in the bar about a possible riot, some sort of "a shaking" in retaliation for Holloway's murder.
But the prosecution never found a witness who could testify that Carter himself was angry about the killing.
After several months of investigation, police didn't know much more than they knew on the night of the crime. Ballistics tests confirmed what Bello had told them on the night of the murder: The shooters used a shotgun and a pistol. They compared Patty Valentine's statements about Bello's comings and goings with his description of how he had run away after snatching money out of the cash register, then returned out of fear that he might be blamed for the murders, and it all matched up. Bello was not a suspect, but he must have been near the bar when the shootings occurred, because he was inside right afterwards.
But Bello wasn't talking anymore. That night, he'd been acting as a lookout man for a burglary, and he left his post to get more cigarettes while his partner, Bradley, struggled futilely to break into a sheet metal company. Lt. Vincent DeSimone, who came into the case (and into Carter's life) the morning of the murders, suspected that Bello had rifled the cash drawer in the bar and he didn't believe Bello was just out for a 2:30 a.m. stroll. Bello refused to speak to DeSimone for four months.
A month after the crime, a grand jury heard from Carter and Artis, who explained what they had each been doing and where they went that night. DeSimone told the grand jury that the eyewitness descriptions of the killers (from Marins, Tanis, Bello and Bradley) were "not even close" to Carter and Artis. This statement of course, later caused a lot of trouble for DeSimone. And the eyewitness testimony from the two surviving shooting victims was virtually useless, anyway. Hazel Tanis, for example, on the night of the shooting, had rambled on and said that one killer was tall and one short, then both were tall, one was light-skinned and one was dark-skinned. (Tanis died four weeks after the shooting and her testimony was excluded from trial, by a motion from Carter's lawyer.)
DeSimone also said that the lie-detector tests the police administered to Carter, Artis, and Eddie Rawls indicated that they had not participated in the crime, but that the three had suspicions of who might have done it. The grand jury did not indict anyone for the crimes. Today, Carter claims that the grand juries held in July and August "exonerated" him and that he and Artis passed the lie detector tests.
The case got a boost four months after the murders when Bello dropped some hints to Sgt. Mohl that he knew more about the murders than he was telling. Bello had gone to Mohl to complain that some of Carter's friends were threatening him. And there was the reward money now in play. Bello finally told Mohl that he'd recognized Carter at the murder scene. Det. LaConte and Mohl took him to meet with DeSimone, who either coached or coaxed him to officially identify Carter as one of the men who had left the bar, laughing and swinging a gun. With this necessary piece of information captured on audiotape, Carter and Artis were arrested.
In real life, DeSimone cautioned Bello to tell the truth. In the movie, the evil Della Pesca says he "just wants the facts," but the acting skills of Dan Hedaya transform the entire scene into a police frame-up of Carter as the detective makes it clear that the truth is the last thing he's interested in. Here's what DeSimone actually said to Bello:
D: Now let me say this at the outset. I'm interested in one thing, Al, an' that's the truth. Now if I get the truth from you, an' not the truth to make me happy, what really is the truth, you follow me?
D: I guarantee you, in return, I will do everything possible to protect you. This is, should be an indication to you that this is the first step. You understand what I mean?
By "protection," DeSimone means, of course, protection from retaliation by Carter or his friends, which Bello and Bradley were both quite worried about. A moment later, Bello asks for more than "protection," – another exchange that wasn't used in the movie:
B: Yeah sure oh, well uh, what I was wonderin' uh, if there isn't any way that I could maybe get my parole dropped or somethin'.
And DeSimone has to step gingerly:
D: Well, that I can't promise, In other words, I'm takin' this a step at a time.
The undeniable fact is that Bello had already named Carter as the shooter to LaConte and Mohl, before he ever sat down with DeSimone and his tape recorder; and the scene in the movie is completely misleading. Furthermore, Bradley was not present at the taping. He was in Bordentown Reformatory for a series of motel robberies. He gave his statement to police separately.
In exchange for his testimony, DeSimone agreed to forget about Bello's role in the attempted break in and the theft of the money from the bar. As he put it to Bello, the murders were far more serious
D. For example, if you were in the area for the possibility of pulling a burglary, there's no evidence that we have of any burglary, even if it were an attempted burglary. You understand what I mean?
B: Yeah. I understand.
D: There would be nothing done on that. This I can assure you. Even if it went so far that I had to go before the grand jury an' tell 'em the true facts. You understand what I mean? An' then dismiss without no-you understand what I mean?
D: Let's assume it did exist. Have no fears about this because, look it isn't a case of dealing but it's just common sense. When you're dealing with a murder, particularly with a murder that involves three people sitting there minding their own business, any normal human being will say, "Hey, forget that,(attempted burglary) that's unimportant." We're not no persecutors lookin' to pick on every little thing. You understand what I mean? Now, uh, I want the complete, total truth.
(Click Here to read the entire transcript.)
This exchange sounded quite sinister in the movie, but what was DeSimone's alternative? Should he have prosecuted Bello for attempted burglary or stealing the money from the bar, and thrown away any chance of getting his testimony about what he saw at the Lafayette Grill that night?
THE FIRST TRIAL
The first trial got underway in Paterson in May 1967. Carter's lawyer's flamboyant and aggressive style contrasted with the dry methodical approach of the prosecuting attorney, Vincent Hull.
It took three tedious weeks to get through jury selection. An incredible 377 jurors were interviewed and many were disqualified because they had already made up their minds about the case, which had been heavily reported by the local papers. The defense used up all 20 of its peremptory challenges to eliminate potential jurors, while the prosecution used only eight. Nonetheless, the 12-person jury that finally sat was all white. (One of the two alternate jurors was West Indian.) The contrast in the courtroom was striking: two black defendants, with black supporters and a black lawyer, being prosecuted and judged by whites. And Carter's lawyer, Raymond Brown, made the white on black tableau a central part of the defense, accusing the police of picking Carter and Artis virtually at random off the streets.
The movie doesn't show any aspect of the actual trial, and for good reason. The police laid out a compelling case for Carter's guilt, starting with the swift identification of his car within a half-hour of the murders.
Carter has claimed that he was basically pulled over for a DWB -- Driving While Black -- on that fateful night. As the Dylan song goes, "in Paterson that's just the way things go / if you're black you might as well not even show up on the street / 'less you want to draw the heat." When Sgt. Capter stopped him and Artis for a second time, Carter says the patrolman was surprised to see him and said, "Awww shit, Hurricane, I didn't know it was you!" Capter's testimony, on the other hand, was that he and his partner were specifically looking for Carter because of the description of the car given at the scene of the crime. And Carter's lawyer repeated Capter's evidence, indicating that the defense heard what Capter was saying, even though they chose to ignore or dispute it later:
Brown: The second time you stopped the car at Broadway and East 18th, what was the posture of the car? Did you have to stop them? Were they being run down?
Capter: They were stopped waiting for the traffic light.
Brown: Nothing unusual?
Capter: No. The only thing, it fit the description that I received at the scene of the crime.
Brown: The description you had was that it was a car and when the brakes were applied it caused the rear lights to light up in a butterfly fashion?
The prosecution relied on the surviving victim of the shooting (Willie Marins) and the testimony of Valentine and Bello for their conclusion that the shooters were blacks. (Valentine only claimed to see the "backs of their necks" as they got into their car.) Other inconsistencies in various descriptions of the killers were downplayed. Marins had described the gunmen as "light-skinned, thin, black men, wearing dark clothing, and one had a pencil-thin mustache." Carter is 5'7", solidly built and wore a goatee. Artis is 6'1" with an athletic build and clean-shaven. Both men are dark skinned and when stopped by police were wearing light-colored clothing, although they had enough time between the first and second time the police stopped them to change their clothing, get rid of the guns, and drop off the third man who had been with them in the car the first time police stopped Carter and Artis.
Marins testified, and in Carter's words (from his autobiography): "didn't say that John Artis and I were the guilty parties, but he wouldn't say in court that we weren't, either. Throughout his examination, Marins kept stressing that he was in a complete state of shock on the morning following the shooting and couldn't possibly have known what he was saying when he was being questioned at the hospital by the police."
For actual identification of Carter and Artis, therefore, the prosecution had to rely on Bello and Bradley. The prosecution openly admitted that both were no-good punks, with lengthy criminal records for petty crimes. On the stand, Bello admitted that he entered the Lafayette right after the shootings, walked past the bodies of the dead and dying, and scooped up about $60 from the cash register. "Basically, I am a thief, I admit that," he said.
Bradley played a minor role. He didn't claim to see as much as Bello. He saw Carter drive by, he said, but he recanted his evidence before the second trial, and did not testify again at the second trial. Neither the prosecution nor the defense had much use for him, as he refused to take a lie detector test and had alcohol and drug problems.
Then it was the defense's turn.
When DeSimone first spoke to Carter about the murders, Carter gave his original version of his activities that night. He said he had been to a late-night business meeting with his "advisor" at Club La Petite, then club-hopped after that.
But later, investigators learned that Carter had run into an old sparring partner that night at the Nite Spot and Carter had accused him of stealing guns from his training camp. Witnesses also placed Carter at the apartment building of a woman who had information about the missing guns, at the same time he was supposedly having a midnight business meeting at Club La Petite.
When Capter and DeChellis pulled Artis and Carter over the first time, Carter claimed they were heading to his house to get more money, but the road they were on was not a through street to Carter's house. (Click Here for a map of the movements of the cars, based on police testimony.) Several blocks behind them (that is, from the direction they had been traveling) was the apartment of Eddie Rawls. Prosecutors speculated that Carter and Artis left the Lafayette, turned down 12th Avenue (where two sets of patrolmen saw a white car speed by), scooped up "Bucks" Royster, the third man in the car, and dropped off clothes and/or weapons at Rawls's house. (Rawls was suspected of being involved in the murders, but police could never tie him to the crime.)
Carter's biographer, James Hirsch, asks, why did Carter and Artis keep driving around that night, to be picked up a second time? Why didn't they hightail it out of town or at least go home?
Psychology, as Russian novelist Dostoevsky pointed out in a murder trial scene in The Brothers Karamazov, is a two-edged sword. Why would Carter and Artis, if guilty, leave their hometown? The sensible thing to do, if you have just committed a murder in your own backyard, is carry on with your normal habits as though nothing is wrong. Carter's normal habit was to cruise the bars until the sun came up. Also, Carter, if guilty and knowing that Bello had seen him leave the Lafayette, may have been running around trying to put his alibi into place. Before Sgt. Capter detained him a second time and brought him in, his car was spotted outside of the Club La Petite, which is where he claimed to be earlier in the evening; on business, not pleasure.
The third man in Carter's car that night, "Bucks" Royster, arrived at court so besotted that the judge asked him how much he had had to drink that morning. Royster replied, "I don't know." In the Dylan ballad, Royster's inebriation somehow became the judge's fault: "The judge made Rubin's witnesses / drunkards from the slums."
By the time Carter took the stand, he had already dug himself into a hole by his attempts to fashion an alibi. From their first interview with DeSimone, Carter and Artis' alibis did not match. Artis claimed he had spent most of the evening with Carter. Carter said he only linked up with Artis after midnight. Their sequence of visits to various nightspots didn't match, either. (Click Here to view an alibi chart.)
Carter told the jury that at the time of the murders, he was giving a woman and her mother a ride home. The two, Catherine McGuire and Anna Mapes Brown, took the stand to corroborate his testimony. She was sure about the time, McGuire said, because her mother had to get up next morning to go to work, so she kept checking her watch. The prosecution called a supervisor from the hospital where Brown worked, who testified that Brown was on vacation at the time of the crime.
Never mentioned in the movie were the shotgun shell and the bullet found in Carter's Dodge when the car was searched at the police station. Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that Carter had ammunition in his car. He collected guns all his life. He enjoyed hunting and kept guns at his training camp. He sometimes carried a pistol under his tailor-made jackets. The Dodge he leased was his "working" car, filled with his boxing equipment and things for camp and perhaps some of his bullets had spilled out, who knows when. But the defense vigorously disputed the bullet evidence, arguing at the first trial that the search of the Dodge had been illegal. They also argued that the ammunition found in the car was of a different brand than that used in the murders, but for that matter, two different types of shotgun shell had been used inside the bar.
Reviews and discussions of the case have tended to feature the arguments made by the defense, while ignoring the rebuttals that were made by the prosecution. For example, Carter's supporters have heaped scorn on Bello's claim that he ran away from Carter and Artis. "How could an overweight, high-heeled Bello elude a world-class professional athlete and a former high school track star?" This point is made in the Hurricane biography and the Canadians' book, Lazarus and the Hurricane. It seems like a good point.
The prosecution does have an explanation, it's just that the readers of the books mentioned above aren't provided with it: When the killers left the bar, their guns were empty, so they couldn't shoot Bello. If they chased Bello down the street, then the white car would have been left behind to incriminate them. Instead, says the prosecution, they decided to brazen it out, leap in the car and drive away. When they were stopped by the police 10 minutes later, Carter, the more recognizable of the two, was lying down in the back seat of the Dodge.
In a largely circumstantial case such as this, issues of credibility become extremely important. The evidence was presented to the jury by a parade of witnesses, not in rhyming verse in a Dylan folk ballad. The jury watched Patricia Valentine, so nervous and frightened that she could barely speak above a whisper, testify that the getaway car was identical to the car Rubin Carter was driving that night. (Click Here for complete trial transcript of Valentine's testimony.)
They watched as the prosecutor carefully led Carter and Artis over the inconsistencies of their alibis -- which contradicted each other and their own testimony in front of the grand jury. (Click Here to view the conflicting alibis found in Sixteenth Round and Hurricane: The Miraculous Journey.)
On May 25, 1967, after deliberating over an eight-hour period, the jury found Carter and Artis guilty. Carter received three life sentences, two consecutive and one concurrent, Artis got three concurrent life sentences.
In his autobiography, Carter describes how, for the first month at Trenton State Prison, he stayed in his cell. He does not speak of solitary confinement, rather that he shunned contact with prison officials and other inmates. Only years later, in 1992, does the story of being thrown in the Hole for three months for refusing to don prison uniform, make its appearance in a Sports Illustrated article. His prison records show that he avoided work details and received citations for disobeying orders, but also make it clear that he was in the general lock up and not kept, as he claims today, in solitary confinement.
By 1972, Carter was working on his autobiography and developing the dramatic stories that would enthrall sympathetic readers and eventually, Lesra Martin and the Canadians. How he was attacked by a pedophile when he was a youth. How he was sent to juvenile detention for 10 years, just for defending himself and his friends. But he hadn't learned his lesson, because, once at Jamesburg State Home for Boys, he tried to defend another little boy from a sadistic guard. He beat the guard savagely, and was punished by being kept in a cell slightly larger than a coffin, for six months. Then the vengeful guard came back to frame him and ruined his chance for parole. So he escaped from juvenile detention in a hail of bullets. Then he joined the Army and defeated the All-Army heavyweight champ, the first time he put on boxing gloves. And there's more, much more, in the same vein.
A practiced raconteur, Carter knew that if he told the story colorfully and with passion, people would believe him. Like the time he defeated Attilio Tonda, whom he describes as the Canadian heavyweight champ, in a little sparring match in Paterson. It was a great story, and nobody ever interrupted him to say that the Canadian heavyweight champ at the time wasn't somebody named Tonda, it was Robert Cleroux.
A BREAK FOR CARTER
By a fortuitous coincidence, Carter's book hit the stands in 1974 a few weeks after a big break in his case: Bello had recanted his testimony and said he'd lied at the first trial. He said the New Jersey police called Carter and Artis "niggers" and "Muslims." Bello claimed they appealed to him, as a white man, to do his bit to get them locked up. "They told me help your own people, and I went for it." (It should be noted here, that Bello was not aware that his conversation with DeSimone had been taped. Unlike the movie, where the tape machine is in plain sight, in real life, the machine was hidden under the table. The detectives do not use the n-word or call anyone a Muslim, on the tape.)
"There's no doubt Carter was framed," Bradley told Selwyn Raab of The New York Times. "I lied to save myself (from a long prison term for robbery)." Carter's lawyers filed a new appeal.
Supporters flocked to the cause. There were marches and demonstrations, led by Muhammad Ali and other celebrities.
Passaic County had a new prosecutor by then, Burrell Humphreys. Humphreys was a member of the NAACP, a man who referred to Martin Luther King Jr. as his hero. When he reviewed the Carter/Artis file, however, he felt that Carter and Artis were guilty and he was willing to re-try them. Humphreys also believed DeSimone's angry protests that he had not coerced Bello and Bradley to lie on the stand and that he and his fellow detectives had not framed Carter and Artis.
In the years following the first trial, Bello had kept getting into trouble and turning to DeSimone for help. DeSimone tried to find him jobs, urged him to quit drinking, nothing worked. Finally, fed up, DeSimone told Bello that he was on his own. At that time, who should pop into Bello's life but Fred Hogan, an investigator in the New Jersey Public Defender's Office who had befriended Carter and taken up the cause of proving his innocence. Seven years had passed since the first trial and with it the deadline for perjury charges. Bello was angry at DeSimone and really upset that he still hadn't received any of the reward money offered for the information leading to the conviction of the killers. Over a period of several months, Hogan met with Bello.
Eventually, both Bello and Bradley agreed to file affidavits recanting their story. But when they were grilled in court as part of Carter and Artis' appeal for a new trial, Judge Larner (the same judge who had conducted the first trial) ruled that the Bello recantation "lacked the ring of truth."
Cal Deal, a reporter for the Herald-News, explained that Larner questioned Bello and Bradley carefully.
In his opinion (that is, his written explanation for his decision) Larner notes that Bello singled out DeSimone "as the one law enforcement officer who pressured him into lying at (the) trial." However, Bello identified Carter and Artis many months before the trial "and at a time before there could have been pressures from Lt. DeSimone," Larner said.
(W)hen pressed on cross-examination on significant matters which might cast doubt on the credibility of his recantation, his memory became poor and he constantly resorted to the ploy, "I don't recall!" he said...
While Bello says he lied when he identified Carter and Artis, he says the rest of his testimony is true. That includes his descriptions of Bradley's actions. Bradley now says he never did the things Bello says he did.
For the first time, according to the record, their testimony does not mesh..."The ring of truth is totally absent in the recantations of both witnesses," Larner concludes.
(Cal Deal kept up his interest in the Carter case over the years and developed a web site, http://www.graphicwitness.com/carter, featuring original trial documents, photographs, and exclusive interviews.)
But Carter and Artis got their second trial, anyway. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the prosecutors were wrong in allowing Bello and Bradley to testify that no promises had been made to them (except for protection).
It was the Bello tape recording that brought the prosecution to grief. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the existence of the tape was unfairly hidden from the defense. DeSimone had given no guarantees to either man, other than the guarantee that he would try his best to help them, but the defense had been deprived of the chance to argue to the first jury that Bello and Bradley were only testifying for these favors, and therefore had a motive to lie on the stand.
So things were looking up for Carter and Artis in 1975. The defense won its motion for a change of venue. The jurors were selected from Hudson County, which the judge said was demographically similar. The judge's decision to grant a change of venue came after studying newspaper articles about the case. He concluded that the local papers were biased against Carter and Artis. In the end, the Hudson County jurors were bussed into Passaic County and the trial was held there. Carter's book was in the bookstores, Muhammad Ali was leading the campaign to free them, Dylan was touring the country with the Rolling Thunder Revue and singing the song co-authored with Jacques Levy: "Here comes the story of the Hurricane / the man the authorities came to blame."
The lone surviving witness, Willie Marins, had died (of causes unrelated to the shooting). Carter began claiming that Marins said he wasn't the killer, although when he wrote his autobiography, Marins was still alive, and Carter accurately wrote that Marins refused or was unable to say either way if Carter was the shooter.
Pending their second trial, Carter and Artis were released on bail. Carter immediately launched a speaking tour, enjoying his freedom and his celebrity. New Jersey's Gov. Brendan Byrne, under public pressure to just pardon and release Carter and Artis, called for a new investigation into the murders. But the good times didn't last long.
Carter was invited to watch a Muhammad Ali fight and he came with his own retinue of bodyguards and supporters. New Jersey columnist Paul Mulshine describes what happened at the hotel when one of his fundraisers, Carolyn Kelley, went to his room to ask Carter about a problem with the hotel bill:
"I didn't see it coming," (Kelley) says of the punch that floored her. "I felt everything getting dark. I remember praying to Allah, 'Please help me,' and apparently Allah rolled me over, and he kicked me in the back instead of kicking my guts out. Allah saved my life."
Shortly thereafter, her son Michael was called to the room by a couple of other members of the entourage who told him 'something happened to my mother in Carter's room.'
''My mother was laying on the floor, near the door; she was in a fetal position with her back to that door," he said....
''I was ready to get a weapon that I had at my disposal. I was going to go to jail that night," he recalls.
Instead, Michael Kelley fought back his anger. He took his mother to a room and iced down the large lump on her cheek and the black eyes. The next day he put her on a plane back to Newark...
''Rubin used to tell me time and time again, 'You've met Rubin and you know Carter, but you've never met the Hurricane. The Hurricane's bad. The Hurricane's mean.'"
At first, horrified and confused, Kelley kept the beating a secret. But Philadelphia Daily News columnist Chuck Stone, formerly sympathetic to Carter, got wind of it and broke the story. The criminal investigation into the beating was inconclusive and Carter was never charged, but the damage was done.
Carter's explanation for the accusation was that he'd thought Kelley was blackmailing him for money. In other words, Carter was framed again! If Kelley was trying to get money, (which she denies), she cooked the goose that laid the golden egg. The publicity machine dried up after the news of her beating became public, and with it the donations. The Carter defense fund ended up in debt.
Carter's celebrity support melted like snow on a griddle. He faced the second trial without Ali, Dylan, Dyan Cannon, or any of the other celebrities who had been proclaiming his innocence.
Carter also turned down a chance to walk out of jail a free man. Before the second trial, Prosecutor Humphreys offered Carter and Artis a no-lose proposition: Take a lie detector test. Pass it, and you go free. Fail it, and it won't be used against you in court.
The defense team refused the offer. They said they didn't trust anybody from Passaic County. Humphreys, on the other hand, felt he had successfully called their bluff. "So much for the claims of innocence," he told Gov. Byrne.
Humphreys also wanted both Bello and Bradley to take lie detector tests before he would use them as witnesses in the second trial. Meanwhile, Bello had come up with yet another version of what happened that night and was trying to develop his story into a book or movie deal. This time, he tried to float the story that he was inside the bar when the shooting broke out, hiding behind Hazel Tanis.
The polygraph expert who gave Bello the test concluded that Bello was telling the truth when he said he was inside the bar! This was patently impossible, no one could have hidden behind Tanis as she crouched, then lay on the ground as two men stood over her, filling her body with buckshot and bullets. Bello was tested again, and this time, the "original" version of the story prevailed with the lie detector. The prosecution hid the significance of the "in the bar" test result from the defense. When its existence was revealed, it became another ground for Carter's eventual release.
Carter's story had attracted all the celebrity attention – the rallies and the concerts and the interviews -- when Bello had recanted and claimed that he had been bribed and coerced by law enforcement. But by now, the story was much too confusing to be summed up on a protest sign or a bumper sticker. The case resembled a hall of mirrors. Originally, the defense accused the police of bribery. Then the prosecution turned the tables on the defense with their own charges of bribery: At the second trial, the prosecutors contended, Bello had recanted his original testimony because the defense had bribed him.
Alfred Bello explained how he was visited in jail (where he was serving time for a drunk and disorderly charge) by (Fred) Hogan, and later by (New York Times journalist Selwyn) Raab and (television reporter Harold) Levinson, who were soliciting his recantation. Bello said that Hogan offered him money if he would recant. Hogan told him he had a 'piece' of Rubin Carter's autobiography and that Bello could get a 'piece' if he recanted….
On the witness stand Fred Hogan became trapped by his own efforts to withhold evidence and conceal the truth. At the 1976 trial, Fred Hogan was called as a defense witness...Mr. Hogan is exposed. His original notes state that Alfred Bello would testify for the highest bidder and that $20,000 was mentioned.
The participation of Raab and Levinson also became suspect. Were they crusading investigative journalists or were they trying to manufacture a sensational story? Did they know that Bello had either asked for money or been offered money to change his story? Both of them took the stand at the second trial to deny trying to bribe Bello, but Levinson admitted that he knew that Bello was talking about getting money to testify. Hogan, Raab and Levinson were never charged with tampering with a witness, but the damage was done. Carter's defense, which relied so heavily on Bello and Bradley's recantation, blew up in his face.
At the second trial, Prosecutor Humphreys described the evidence against Carter and Artis as six strands, which, woven together, made a "rope strong enough to bring two killers to justice." The six strands were:
- eyewitness testimony about the car,
- eyewitness identification of Carter and Artis,
- Carter's movements on the night of the crime,
- the collapse of Carter's alibi;.
- the ammunition found in Carter's car, and
- the motive -- revenge.
Patty Valentine returned to testify about the car. Bello was led carefully through his testimony, and he had to explain to the court how often he'd lied and why. It took five days to sort through the tangled mess, and who knew what the jury would make of it all.
The ammunition found in the car was the subject of another fierce debate. This time the defense contended that the police had planted it. Muddying the waters was the fact, uncovered by journalist Raab, that the police did not log the bullets in as evidence until five days after they said they found it.
The prosecution countered this argument by producing two witnesses (Valentine and a local reporter) who testified they saw the policeman find the ammunition in the car the morning after the murders. Although of a different brand, the bullet and the shotgun shell matched the caliber of the murder weapons.
Then, more disaster for Carter. When the second trial was first announced, Carter told the media that he would rather have a trial to set the record straight, instead of just being pardoned and released by the governor, as his supporters had been asking: "I'd rather have a fair trial that's free from perjured testimony, that's free from manufactured evidence which put us here originally."
But leading up to the second trial, Carter's defense team learned that his alibi witnesses from the first trial were going to testify for the prosecution this time around. It was another hall of mirrors situation. Catherine McGuire and her mother Anna Mapes Brown testified that Carter had asked them to lie for him at the first trial. The prosecution found a letter Carter wrote to them from jail before the first trial, laying out the alibi story and asking them to "remember" it. (Click Here to view an image of Carter's letter to his alibi witness, April 5, 1967.)
Carter was damaged as much or more by the credibility problems he created for himself, as he was by Bello's shaky testimony. His alibi meltdown was especially foolhardy, since the exact time of the murders was not a big issue. Carter was at a nightclub just four blocks from the Lafayette around the time of the shootings, and everyone agreed that the job didn't take long, probably no more than a minute.
Finally, at the second trial, Prosecutor Humphreys introduced motive, which had not been discussed the first time around. Humphreys believed in and argued for the racial revenge motive, the idea that Carter was avenging the murder of his friend's stepfather. Humphreys felt if he could get the jury to understand that Carter was impulsive, vengeful and reckless, they might believe he was the kind of man who would do such a thing. And the evidence that painted such a picture lay conveniently at hand.
Humphreys wanted to confront Carter with all of the hated that spilled over in the pages of his autobiography The 16th Round. He wanted to demonstrate to the jury that Carter loathed and despised white people and routinely talked about killing and shooting:
"America, the dirty white racist bitch!" Carter wrote, describing his travels as a young Army recruit through the Deep South:
I looked out of the window at a bunch of drunken farmers who were crowding around a radio and disharmoniously yelling their fool-ass heads off to a hillbilly song. Their loud rebel shrieks grated on my nerves...I noticed something else, too: all these honkies were wearing guns, every last one of them. I decided I would have to get me one, too.
The second trial judge, Bruno Leopizzi, ruled against Humphreys on the book, but allowed him to argue the racial revenge motive. [Years later, this was the decision that set Carter free. A federal judge, Lee Sarokin, (played by Rod Steiger in the movie), ruled that there was no evidence that Carter hated white folks, or that he was angry about Holloway's shooting, Sarokin felt the prosecution was saying that Carter, a black man, wanted revenge just because he was black, as though all blacks went out and shot people when one of their own was killed. The racial revenge motive, therefore, was racist and prejudicial and Sarokin ruled that Carter didn't get a fair trial.]
By the time the two sides gave their closing arguments, Carter knew he was headed back to jail. He himself had decided not to take the stand, so he wouldn't be cross-examined about the Carolyn Kelley beating. Then there was that book that he wrote, maybe all the exaggerations he'd put in there weren't such a good idea. If he got on the stand, the prosecutor could have creamed his credibility with that.
When thousands of people were marching for Carter and Artis in the streets, it was the prosecution that stood accused of using lying witnesses, of bribery, of manufacturing the evidence. By the time the second trial was over, testimony suggested that it was Carter who had tried to bribe a witness (Bello) and it was he, not the prosecution, who had relied on perjured testimony (from his alibi witnesses in the first trial). The jury believed the prosecution version of events.
In addition, the aggressive tactics of the defense team only served to alienate the jury. After the second trial, Humphreys gave his opinion of the Carter/Artis defense team.
They could have stressed a reasonable doubt about the identification and not attacked the police. They could have said the 10 various officers in the case might have been mistaken, rather than conspiring to frame (Carter and Artis). Trying to convince the public of a massive police frame-up is difficult and can backfire if you don't have absolute proof...A good attorney would not have openly antagonized the court, would not have cross-examined all witnesses at great length — since this loses effectiveness — and would concentrate on proving a reasonable doubt rather than the conspiracy theory.
This was a disastrous turn of events for John Artis. All along, he had protested his innocence. He was, he said, just a young man who went along for a ride with Carter on that fateful night. The prosecution contended that he was a star-struck boy who'd had too much to drink and went along for the ride on a murder spree, swayed by Carter's charisma and charm. A year before the second trial, prosecutors offered Artis full clemency if he would testify against Carter. He refused. For the second trial, Artis had the option of being tried separately, but he and his lawyer went along with Carter's defense strategy. The catastrophe that was the second trial was due entirely to the blunders made by Carter and his supporters. It was Carter who created the damning evidence of the letter coaching his alibi witnesses in their story. Artis had nothing to do with attempts to bribe Bello and Bradley into recanting their testimony. It was Carter who was accused of beating a female supporter, and it was Carter who wrote a book that was chock full of demonstrable falsehoods and overt racist diatribes.
If Artis is innocent, as he claims, he must particularly regret turning down the offer from Prosecutor Humphreys before the second trial -- if you pass a lie detector test, you can go free. Fail the test, and it won't be used against you in court.
And Carter and Artis went back to jail. Where the Canadians found them, in 1980.
LESRA MARTIN AND THE CANADIANS
Lesra Martin and the Canadians first met Carter through the pages of his autobiography, The 16th Round. In their subsequent book about their adventures, Lazarus and the Hurricane, they recount how they were horrified by Carter's description of his frame-up and imprisonment, at the age of 11, for defending himself against a pedophile:
The judge sat high above us, his black robe rippling in the breeze of a huge fan 'These hoodlum cut-thoats in this city are a menace to our society," he said.... "I sentence you, Rubin Carter, to Jamesburg State Home for Boys, as of this day until you are 21 years of age. So be it."
My mother grasped my hand tightly and cried, (wrote Carter). I was numb with shock. "Until I am 21 years old?" I thought. "Goddamn! That was 10 years away. Ten long years."
But long before the publication of their book in 1991, the Canadians became acquainted with Carter's actual criminal record, and knew that Carter was not 11, but 14 years old, when he was sentenced to three years for attacking a man with a bottle and stealing a watch and $55 dollars. He did have a brush with the law at age 11 -- his own father turned him in to the police because of his acts of theft and vandalism. The Canadians knew the truth, but they repeated Carter's version anyway, which is the version shown in the movie.
Carter claims to have been a political activist who attracted the ire of J. Edgar Hoover himself (hence the frame-up for murder). He claims he marched in Washington in 1963 to hear Martin Luther King Jr. and was invited to join the March in Selma for Southern voting rights. Did the Canadians notice that there isn't one scrap of evidence to back up these claims? Although Carter has been the subject of four sympathetic books, not a single article, photo, or quote has surfaced to indicate that he ever spoke out on civil rights, except for a frequently misquoted remark in the Saturday Evening Post about going up to Harlem and shooting some cops. Even the movie writers couldn't come up with any rallies or speeches for their hero. They show Denzel Washington making the reckless "shoot some cops" remark, then the next thing you know, someone is breaking out the windows at Carter's house. If such a frightening incident occurred in real life, Carter has never mentioned it.
The Canadians' book pounces on inconsistencies or perceived inconsistencies in the evidence against Carter, but ignores Carter's credibility problem entirely. It is hard to guess what blinded the Canadians to the many discrepancies between Carter's version and the actual record. The Canadians routinely took Carter's word over the sworn court testimony of the police, even if it meant accepting Byzantine and convoluted conspiracy theories. And since Carter's alibi witnesses, who were also black, turned on Carter in the second trial and withdrew their alibis for him, the Canadians had an explanation for that too; the racist police had pressured them into removing their alibis.
At roughly the same time the Canadians came into Carter's life, the defense discovered the existence of an investigator who had worked on the Carter/Artis investigation before the second trial. His name was Richard Caruso and he had saved his notes critiquing the case. The defense felt they had stumbled on to a gold mine.
Paul Wice, in his book Rubin Hurricane Carter and the American Justice System, says "Caruso's notes were based on a combination of personal observations, overheard conversations, and office gossip during his brief three months within the task force."
Caruso, for one thing, was very critical of the initial police investigation, which was deplorably lax. But he also thought he detected corruption, as well. Caruso was suspicious of the fact that after the first trial, Patty Valentine was able to buy a house in Florida. This incriminating tidbit has been repeated, but the rebuttal has never been published, except for here: Patty Valentine's husband had fought in Vietnam and they were able to fund the purchase through his veteran's benefits. Caruso also wrote about a secret code word that people needed to know before approaching some of DeSimone's witnesses. The code word is suggestive, not of a cover-up, but of security. Patty Valentine was always concerned for her safety and DeSimone may have devised the code word to reassure her that no stranger could show up on her doorstep pretending to be from the prosecution team.
What little is revealed about the Caruso notes, as discussed in Lazarus and the Hurricane, indicates that Caruso was also interested in the witnesses and allegations that were part of the initial investigation, then were dropped by the wayside as the detectives focussed on Carter and Artis. Names like Annie Ruth Haggins and the Cockershams reappear. These were people who had little credibility, who told conflicting and shifting stories, and were never used as witnesses by either side. But to the Canadians, anyone was more credible than a white policeman.
A forged time card, altering the time of the murders -- and thus affecting Carter's alibi -- is crucial to the plot of the movie. This evidence was also put forward by the Canadians and is discussed at length in their book. In real life, the time of the murders was given as 2:30 in the very first police report, before police could possibly have traced Carter's movements that night. How could they have known, a few hours after the crime, that they needed to falsify and place the time of the murder at 2:30? According to Carter, the "frame up" against him didn't start to happen for several months.
In the movie, the time of the murders was altered by fifteen minutes, from 2:30 to 2:45. In real life, the murders were always pegged at 2:30. Both Valentine and Bello called the police and Det. Lawless was on his way from his house minutes after the shootings. Ambulances were dispatched, victims were scooped up and admitted to hospital, reporters descended on the scene. It would have been impossible to change the official murder time, months after the crime.
While it's good drama for the movie, the theory that the time of the murders was hidden with forged evidence has no credibility and has precisely nothing to do with why Carter was eventually freed. Moviegoers have been completely conned on that one.
Another possibility the Canadians researched was that the car in question was not a Dodge Polara, but a Dodge Monaco. The Canadians felt the Monaco's lights, which extended across the back of the car, were more butterfly-like than the Polara's. In the movie, Valentine's testimony is falsely given as "(the) taillights lit up all across the back." In real life, Valentine testified that the taillights did not light up all across the back. But little facts like that didn't stop the producers of the movie from insisting that the car was really a Monaco.
CARTER IS RELEASED
One of the angriest criticisms leveled at The Hurricane movie is that the amateur Scooby-doo efforts of the Canadians are given such prominence, instead of the painstaking legal arguments of Carter's lawyers. One of the people making this criticism is, not surprisingly, one of the lawyers on the Carter/Artis defense team.
Carter was able to finally walk out of the New Jersey prison system in 1985 because of a carefully crafted legal brief, (which the Canadians assisted in researching and writing). (Artis was paroled four years earlier.)
The movie shows that the defense team appealed to a Federal Appeals Court for a writ of habeas corpus on the grounds that Carter did not receive a fair trial. For one thing, the defense had learned about that Bello lie detector test, the one where Bello claimed to be in the bar while the bullets were flying. This could have been used in court to further attack Bello's credibility. For another, the racial revenge motive linking Carter to the shooting was a tenuous connection. Although there was evidence that Carter knew the stepson of the murdered black bartender and even evidence that Carter was discussing or looking for guns on the murder night, there is no evidence that Carter discussed plans for revenge.
Judge Sarokin agreed with the defense and ruled that the racial revenge motive was unconstitutional. He wrote that the extensive record [of the case] "clearly demonstrates that petitioner's convictions were predicated upon an appeal to racism rather than reason and concealment rather than disclosure." In writing his decision, Sarokin made more than a dozen factual mistakes, including inserting the name of a victim from another shooting. As the Bergen Record wrote on March 26, 20000, "While [these mistakes] considered inconsequential by some, such mistakes nonetheless continue to fuel the debate that Carter and Artis were wrongly freed by a judge who did not closely study an otherwise complex case. Even Carter's biographer says the mistakes are 'not insignificant.'"
The prosecution team, now led by John Goceljak and Ron Marmo, fought Judge Sarokin's ruling all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and went down swinging. (To read that brief click here.) Finally, the authorities decided that because so many years had passed since the crimes occurred, because some witnesses had died, because Artis had already been paroled and Carter had served virtually a life term anyway, that they would dismiss the charges, rather than hold a third trial.
If they could have foreseen that they would be portrayed with impunity in a Hollywood movie as corrupt, foul-mouthed racists with the integrity of cockroaches, perhaps they might have gone for that third trial.
Carter lived with the Canadians in the United States while the State of New Jersey appealed Sarokin's ruling, then moved to Canada as soon as he was free to do so. Perhaps the implications of freeing a man who was a reckless and spontaneous storyteller and a paranoid weaver of conspiracy tales didn't occur to the Canadians before Carter's release in 1985. If so, the reality must have struck them soon after Carter moved in with them. Carter claims in his biography Hurricane, published in 2000, that the Canadians watched him like a hawk when he was in public and even listened in on his telephone conversations.
His tendency to invent grandiose claims for himself -- "I made the Olympics in 1956!" -- could be the reason why such close surveillance occurred. Carter sometimes got carried away with his anecdotes ("I smuggled guns to South Africa!") And the Canadians had book and movie deals to consider. Carter was damaging his own credibility and hence his marketability.
But with rare exceptions journalists over the years have accepted Carter's version(s) of his life and his case without scruple. He has the ability, it seems, to project absolute sincerity. Thus Boston Globe reporter Michael Blowen interviewed Carter in 1992 at the commune and soberly reported: "for many of his years in prison, Carter was in solitary confinement. He learned to subsist on five slices of bread and two glasses of water and on food brought in from the outside -- there was a 25-pound-a-month limit." Blowen evidently did not check into federal regulations limiting solitary confinement, or Carter's own autobiography that contradicts the interview.
More recently, Carter told a capacity audience at the University of South Florida that the State of New Jersey kept him in conditions that make Devil's Island sound like a holiday at Club Med: "For 10 of the 22 years," states The Oracle, the student paper, "Carter said he sat thinking in its darkness, also called 'the hole.' "Six feet underground, in total darkness, without sanitation, with five slices of stale bread and one glass of water," Carter said."
For The New York Times he pulled out all the stops and claimed that he spent 20 years in solitary confinement. (He didn't mention whether he got a thimbleful of water and one or two dry crusts of bread.)
This stuff wows reporters and also his audiences. Then Carter caps it all off by explaining that he's not bitter about all that has been done to him. People who are not bitter, of course, do not sue for wrongful prosecution. And Carter points out he never has.
For a man who is not bitter, Carter has left a trail of bitterness behind him. Most of the people involved in his big publicity push in the 1970's were cut out of his life by the time the jury in his second trial found him guilty. His son, Raheem, hasn't seen him in years. When the movie came out, Raheem was in jail, awaiting trial for assaulting his girlfriend, and, he claimed to reporters, waiting for his father to post his bail. As for the Canadians, his relationship with them was over years before last year's movie came out.
In 1994, after Carter had moved in and out of the Canadians' commune several times, he left for good and hasn't looked back. One of the Canadians –Lisa Peters -- had become his wife but he now claims that he only married her to improve his chances of immigrating to Canada. They are now separated and Carter has moved on to another relationship.
Too bad the Canadians, who are avid astrologers and casters of horoscopes, didn't see the heartbreak that lay ahead of them. They had ignored or excused Carter's tendency to revise his past or to blame others whenever anything went wrong. But in Carter's 2000 biography, it was the Canadians who came under attack. Carter told biographer James Hirsch the Canadians were incapable of treating Carter like an equal. He felt like a "trophy horse to fill their coffers," and he felt like they were his new jailers.
Suddenly, the Canadians were willing to acknowledge that Carter was capable of a less than scrupulous adherence to the truth: ``There are so many untruths in the book,'' one of the Canadians sighed in an interview for the Toronto Star. ``This is not a pleasant thing to talk about. It's distasteful.''
Paterson police and prosecutors probably found the Canadians' description of them in Lazarus and the Hurricane, distasteful as well: After wittily asserting that one of the prosecutors was keen to send Carter back to jail because jailing an innocent man was "a real accomplishment," the prosecutor is described as "teeter(ing) in his elevator shoes, his auburn pompadour slipping suspiciously out of place."
It's not just that Carter and the Canadians no longer live together, they no longer speak. This awkward fact was a problem for the promoters of the movie, who don't portray the less-than-perfect postscript to Carter's life after the judge sets him free. On screen, the Canadians and young Lesra leap up in exultation as Rod Steiger frees Denzel Washington. At the film's premiere, the Canadians and Carter sat in separate rows and never spoke to one another. The producers of The Hurricane have not announced plans for a sequel.
Both Carter and the Canadians, however, say that they are pleased with the movie, even though the movie falsifies and distorts almost every aspect of the case. The "year's most honestly inspirational story," as one enthusiastic reviewer put it, actually promotes distrust and hatred, and every scene that shows Carter being framed or threatened is distorted or invented out of whole cloth.
Carter, now 64, promotes himself as an advocate for the wrongfully convicted, and lives in Toronto. He continues to tell his audiences at his motivational speeches that Willie Marins said he wasn't the killer, that he was persecuted because of his black activism, that he was the victim of a racist frame-up, that he was exonerated by the courts. Corporations and universities pay thousands of dollars to be told fictions by Carter. Lesra Martin and John Artis, recognizing a good thing when they see it, have also joined the lecture circuit.
If the Canadians, or Carter, or Lesra Martin -- now an attorney himself -- believe that any of their accusations about Carter's frame-up are true, if they have a shred of evidence that such despicable acts occurred, they should be hounding the U.S. Department of Justice to indict the wrongdoers. The fact is that no person involved in prosecuting Carter and Artis has been officially accused of forgery, perjury, witness tampering, attempted murder, or any of the heinous things the movie, the Canadians, and Carter accuse the New Jersey authorities of doing.
The movie ends with the words, "the real killers were never caught, nor were they pursued."
New Jersey authorities maintain to this day that when they prosecuted Carter and Artis, they prosecuted the men who went to the Lafayette Grill and shot four innocent people, then walked out, laughing.
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