In June of 1976, I received an unexpected phone call from Trenton State Prison. An intern in the newsroom called me out of the studio to say I had a collect phone call from somebody named Hurricane.
I accepted the call from the man about whom I had been reporting. He had an upcoming second trial he hoped would overturn a previous conviction of murder.
I met with the former boxer who had distinguished himself in the ring as a middleweight with ferocious punching power, and his 1963 knockout of division champ Emille Griffith. But his greatest battle was against a system he claimed was prejudicial and wrongly convicted him of killing three white people in a bar in Paterson, New Jersey.
Trenton State was a dark, foreboding place. During our interview, Carter told me the facts in his case were tainted at trial and that he was set up, that witness who placed him at the scene of the crime recanted her original testimony, but later recanted her recantation.
There was an international groundswell of support for Carter. Muhhamad Ali and a host of celebrities rallled behind him. He was immortalized in a ballad by Bob Dylan. The folk song became an anthem for his racial injustice.
Carter wrote an autobiography, “The Sixteenth Round,” in which there is a reference to my 1976 interview regarding the beating of one time ally, Carolyn Kelly.
Carter maintained the woman made up the story of the beating because she wanted to blackmail him for $100,000. The book figure differed from the $250,000 figure he stated in the interview with me.
In 1986, a federal judge ruled that Carter’s prosecution was predicated upon an appeal to racism rather than reason, and overturned his conviction setting him free after two decades in prison. Carter’s long battle was dramatized in the 1999 Oscar nominated file, “The Hurricane,” starring Denzel Washington.
Since his release, Carter lived in Canada where he was an activist for the wrongly convicted.
In a February Op-Ed piece in the New York Daily News, Carter wrote that a dying wish was for Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson to reopen the case of David McCullum who he claimed was wrongly convicted of the 1985 kidnapping murder of a Queens man.
Of his own battle against injustice, Carter once said, “They can incarcerate my body, but never my mind.”
He died in Canada from complications of prostate cancer. Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was 76.