In James S. Hirsch’s book about Rubin “Hurricane Essay” Cater, Hurricane, the author describes how Carter was wrongfully imprisoned and how he managed to become free. Hirsch tells about the nearly impossible battle for Carter and his friend John Artis for freedom and justice. Both, Carter and Artis, were convicted of a triple homicide, and both were innocent.
The book raises the importance of, and questions, the writ of habeas corpus.
Carter used a writ of habeas corpus to get a federal trial. Many question the legality of Carter going into federal jurisdiction, when his case should have been heard before the Supreme Court of New Jersey. It was a gamble, but the federal judge gave fair justice to Carter and Artis. The State of New Jersey appealed the case all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which upheld the District Court’s ruling.
Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was a boxer who hailed from Paterson, New Jersey. His story begins in the summer of 1966, during the Civil Rights Movement.
Carter was at the Lafayette Bar and Grill on June 17th, but he was denied service by the bartender, James Oliver, due to his race. Carter left the bar after being denied service. Around 2:30 A.M., two armed black men came into the Lafayette Bar and opened fire. Oliver and one customer were killed instantly.
Two other patrons, Hazel Tanis and William Marins, were
seriously wounded. Patty Valentine, a tenant who lived above the bar, looked out her window just after the shooting. She saw two black men leave in a white car.
Nearby Alfred Bello and Arthur Bradley were breaking into a factory. Bello was the lookout, and his exact location – inside or outside the bar – would be a point of concentration for the next twenty years. The police arrived at the bar within minutes.
They took statements from Marins, Valenine, and Bello. Not one of them said they had seen Rubin Carter, one of Paterson’s most well-known citizens, at the scene. A police bulletin radioed officers to be on the lookout for a white car with two black men inside.
Four minutes after the shooting, but before the police bulletin, a Paterson police officer was chasing a speeding white car which was leaving town. The car got away. As he returned to Paterson, the same officer heard the bulletin and stopped another white car, leased by Rubin Carter.
Artis was driving and Cater was the passenger. The police escorted Artis and Carter to the crime scene.
No one at the crime scene identified Carter and Artis as the killers. They were then taken to the hospital where Marins and Tanis did not identify them. They were released from police custody around 7:00 P.M.
on June 17th. They were not charged at the time.
Between July and October 1966, Bello and Bradley were offered a deal. In exchange for identifying Carter and Artis as the killers, they would get leniency for all of their pending criminal charges. Bello was also told he would get to claim the $10,000 reward offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the two killers. Bello signed a statement claiming he saw the pair outside the bar right after the shootings.
Consequently, Carter and Artis were arrested on October 14, 1966 and charged with three counts of first-degree murder.
At the trial, Bello testified against Carter and Artis. He claimed that the was outside the bar, on the street. His testimony was key to the deliberations of the all-white jury. Carter and Artis were both found guilty of murder in the first degree. Each received three lifetime sentences which were upheld by the New Jersey Supreme Court.
Prosecutors made good on their promises to Bello and Bradley. Bello continued to rely on police protection with the courts until 1974, when he was told nothing more would be done for him. He was no longer benefiting from government hand-outs, so Bello began to tell a different story. A story that was more consistent with his first police discussion, and one that would exonerate Carter and Artis.
Rubin Carter was telling his story in a book, The 16th Round. This book received significant attention.
Even Bob Dylan was intrigued by it .