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Hurricane Carter, Fearsome Boxer Wrongly Convicted of Murder, Dies at 76

May 6, 1937 – April 20, 2014

Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a star prizefighter whose career was cut short by a murder conviction in New Jersey and who became an international cause célèbre while imprisoned for 19 years before the charges against him were dismissed, died Sunday morning at his home in Toronto. He was 76.

The cause of death was prostate cancer, his friend and onetime co-defendant, John Artis, said. Carter was being treated in Toronto, where he had founded a nonprofit organization, Innocence International, to work to free prisoners it considered wrongly convicted.

Carter was convicted twice on the same charges of fatally shooting two men and a woman in a Paterson, N.J., tavern in 1966. But both jury verdicts were overturned on different grounds of prosecutorial misconduct.

The legal battles consumed scores of hearings involving recanted testimony, suppressed evidence, allegations of prosecutorial racial bias – Carter was black and the shooting victims were white – and a failed prosecution appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the convictions.

Carter first became famous as a ferocious, charismatic, crowd-pleasing boxer who was known for his shaved head, goatee, glowering visage and devastating left hook. He narrowly lost a fight for the middleweight championship in 1964.

He attracted worldwide attention during the roller-coaster campaign to clear his name of murder charges. Amnesty International described him as a “prisoner of conscience” whose human rights had been violated. He portrayed himself as a victim of injustice who had been framed because he spoke out for civil rights and against police brutality.

“They can incarcerate my body but never my mind,” Carter told the New York Times in 1977, shortly after his second conviction.

Rubin Carter was born on May 6, 1937, in Clifton, N.J., and grew up nearby in Passaic and Paterson. His father, Lloyd, and his mother, Bertha, had moved there from Georgia. To support his wife and seven children, Lloyd Carter worked in a rubber factory and operated an ice-delivery service in the mornings.

Rubin Carter enlisted in the Army and became a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division in Germany, and put on boxing gloves for the first time. He found he enjoyed associating with boxers.

“They were strong, honest people, hardworking and equally hard-fighting,” he recalled. “There were no complications there whatsoever, no tensions, no fears.”

Carter founded Innocence International in 2004 and lectured about inequities in America’s criminal-justice system. In 2011, he published an autobiography, “Eye of the Hurricane: My Path From Darkness to Freedom,” written with Ken Klonsky and with a foreword by Nelson Mandela.

In his last weeks, he campaigned for the exoneration of David McCallum, a Brooklyn man who has been in prison since 1985 on murder charges. In an opinion article published by the Daily News on Feb. 21, headlined “Hurricane Carter’s Dying Wish,” he asked that McCallum “be granted a full hearing” by Brooklyn’s new district attorney, Kenneth P. Thompson.

“Just as my own verdict ‘was predicated on racism rather than reason and on concealment rather than disclosure,’ as Sarokin wrote, so too was McCallum’s,” Carter wrote.

He added: “If I find a heaven after this life, I’ll be quite surprised. In my own years on this planet, though, I lived in hell for the first 49 years, and have been in heaven for the past 28 years.”

– New York Times

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