Rubin “Hurricane” Carter (1937-2014) was a professional boxer and legal rights advocate who spent nearly twenty years in prison for murder convictions that were later overturned. After his release from prison in 1985, he immigrated to Toronto, Canada, where he served as Executive Director of the Association in Defense of the Wrongly Convicted from 1993-2004.
Rubin Carter was born on May 6, 1937, in Clifton, New Jersey, to Lloyd and Bertha Carter. At age 14, he was convicted of robbery and assault and sent to the Jamesburg Home for Boys in New Jersey, from which he escaped at age 17 to join the Army. There he took up boxing, and was discharged in 1956. A year later he was convicted of robbery and assault and spent four years in Trenton State Prison. He became a professional boxer on his release in 1961, narrowly losing the World Boxing Association middleweight championship in 1964. Carter and his friend John Artis were arrested in 1966 and charged with committing three murders at the Lafayette Bar in Paterson, New Jersey. Despite inconsistencies in testimony and conflicting evidence, Carter and Artis were found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.
While in prison, Carter published The Sixteenth Round: From Number 1 Contender to #45472 (1974). Musician Bob Dylan read the book and visited Carter in prison in 1975, leading to the composition of his song “Hurricane,” which raised public awareness of Carter and his case. The two identifying witnesses recanted their testimony, and in March 1976 the New Jersey Supreme Court overturned the convictions of both Artis and Carter. At a second trial in December 1976, prosecutors argued that Carter and Artis were motivated by racial revenge, and they were again convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Carter and lead attorney Myron Beldock continued to appeal his conviction with the assistance of members of a Canadian commune. On November 7, 1985, Judge H. Lee Sarokin of the United States District Court in Newark overturned the second conviction and ruled that the prosecutors had withheld evidence and violated the defendants’ constitutional rights. Carter was released the next day after a bail hearing.
In 1988, Carter moved to Toronto, Canada. In addition to a career as a popular motivational speaker, he was the Executive Director of the Association in Defense of the Wrongly Convicted from 1993-2004. He worked with the Innocence Project to exonerate the wrongfully convicted and founded Innocence International in 2004. His autobiography, Eye of the Hurricane: My Path from Darkness to Freedom, written with Ken Klonsky, was published in 2011. Carter received numerous awards and honors, including honorary doctorates from Griffith University and York University (2005) and an honorary championship belt from the World Boxing Council (1993). In 1999, a movie was released based on Carter’s experiences starring Denzel Washington in the title role, The Hurricane.
Carter married Mae Thelma Basket in 1963, and they had two children, Theodora and Raheem. They were divorced in 1984. Carter was remarried in the 1990s to Canadian commune leader Lisa Peters, whom he later divorced. Carter died on April 20, 2014, in Toronto, of cancer.