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Rubin (Hurricane) Carter is shown at his home in Toronto, Dec. 28, 1999. (Patti Gower/The Globe and Mail)
Rubin (Hurricane) Carter is shown at his home in Toronto, Dec. 28, 1999. (Patti Gower/The Globe and Mail)

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter dead at 76 Add to ...

Rubin (Hurricane) Carter, a professional boxer who served nearly 20 years in prison in New Jersey after being wrongfully convicted of a 1966 triple murder, became an international figure after his release as an advocate for others jailed for crimes they did not commit.

Mr. Carter, a cause célèbre in the 1970s whose plight was dramatized in an eight-and-a-half-minute song by Bob Dylan and later in a 1999 movie starring Denzel Washington, died on Sunday in Toronto after a battle with prostate cancer. He was 76.

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His long-time friend John Artis, who was also wrongly convicted with Mr. Carter for the same crime in 1966, confirmed the death in an e-mail to The Globe. Mr. Artis had been caring for Mr. Carter over the past three years as his condition worsened.

While seen by many as an inspiring figure after his 1985 release, the Hurricane cultivated a much more menacing persona when he took up pro-boxing as a middleweight in 1961, with his fighting style of quick punches earning him his nickname.

His background matched the image. He had served more than four years in prison for assaults and robberies. At age 12, after assaulting a man he claimed was a pedophile, he was sent to a reformatory, from which he would escape. He had also spent two years in the army, serving in West Germany, where he got into boxing.

Born on May 6, 1937, in Clifton, N.J., Mr. Carter says he was bullied about his stammer, forcing him early on to learn to respond with his fists.

The story of the Hurricane later put into song and film begins on June 17, 1966. In the early morning hours, two black men shot and killed the bartender and two white patrons, one man and one woman, of the Lafayette Bar and Grill in Paterson, N.J.

Riding in his car nearby, after a night spent at local nightclubs, was Mr. Carter, then 29. Actually at the wheel that night, because Mr. Carter had been drinking, was Mr. Artis, a 19-year-old acquaintance who had hitched a ride from a bar. Another man was also with them in the car.

Looking for the suspects, police pulled them over, but let them go, since they were looking for two black men, not three. They were stopped again about 10 minutes later after the other man had been dropped off.

Police took them to the scene of the crime, and then to the hospital where a survivor of the attack who had been shot in the head was asked if they were the killers, and did not identify them. The initial descriptions given by witnesses did not match Mr. Carter and Mr. Artis. They were interrogated, given lie detector tests and released. A grand jury would later fail to indict them.

But in October, police arrested both men and charged them with the murders. At their 1967 trial, an all-white jury would convict them based largely on the testimony of two local petty criminals, Alfred Bello and Arthur Dexter Bradley.

Mr. Bello, who robbed the register at the Lafayette Bar and Grill after the shooting, was standing lookout while Mr. Bradley was breaking into a nearby factory. While initially failing to identify Mr. Carter and Mr. Artis at the scene, both told police later that Mr. Carter was one of two black men they saw running from the bar.

While in jail, Mr. Carter published his 1974 book The Sixteenth Round, pounded out on an Underwood in his prison cell, and sent it to celebrities, including Muhammad Ali – who he knew from his boxing days and who would put up his bail before his second trial – a well as Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Harry Belafonte and Bob Dylan.

Mr. Dylan soon met with Mr. Carter -- “I recognized the fact that here was a brother,” Mr. Carter would say of the Sixties icon, according to Rolling Stone – and helped organize two benefit concerts. With theatre director Jacque Levy, Mr. Dylan wrote the song Hurricane in 1975 that made Mr. Carter’s story widely known.

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