The prosecution’s two main witnesses, Mr. Bradley and Mr. Bello, would both recant their testimony, leading to a second trial in 1976.
But controversy would still dog Mr. Carter. He faced allegations that he assaulted a female supporter in a hotel room while on bail, allegations his lawyers denied. Authorities would decline to lay criminal charges in the case.
Two witnesses that provided alibis for Mr. Carter also recanted, saying they had been encouraged to lie at the 1967 trial. Hopes for Mr. Carter and Mr. Artis soon faded. Mr. Bello recanted his recantation, reverting to his testimony from the first trial that labelled Mr. Carter as the killer.
In arguments that were not made in the 1967 trial, the prosecution also argued that the killings were a “racial revenge” plot, meant to avenge the death of a black tavern owner who was the stepfather of a friend of Mr. Carter.
A jury, this time with two black jurors, once again convicted Mr. Carter and Mr. Artis of first degree murder. Mr. Carter went back to his bare five-foot-by-seven-foot cell at Trenton State Prison, where he continued to refuse to take part in prison activities or eat prison food, saying that doing so was tantamount to admitting his guilt.
He relied instead on a supporter to bring him canned soups and vegetables that he cooked on an electric coil. According to a report in the New York Times in 1977, a year after his second conviction, none of the rock stars or celebrities drawn to his cause before the trial had come to visit him. He became estranged from his wife and two children.
In 1979, an illiterate black teenager named Lesra Martin, who had been plucked from his home in Brooklyn by a Toronto-based commune that wanted to help him learn to read and write, picked up a copy of The Sixteenth Round.
He became fascinated by Mr. Carter, and learned to read partly by going through the documents in his case. At his urging, others in the commune decided to try to help the former fighter gain his freedom, moving down to New Jersey to be close to him. They became known as “the Canadians,” in the various retellings of Mr. Carter’s life story.
Mr. Martin, now a lawyer in Kamloops, B.C., said in an interview that he never doubted Mr. Carter’s innocence, ever since the first time he met him in 1980, standing in the intimidating visitor room at a maximum security prison at just 16 years old.
“I am petrified as I am standing there waiting for him to come, and all of a sudden, he comes up and he realizes that I am shaking and I am scared and he begins to embrace me, and hug me, and whisper in my ear and tell me not to be afraid,” Mr. Martin said. “My heart told me, unequivocally, at that point, that is not the heart of someone that could murder three people.”
Mr. Carter’s principal lawyers, Leon Friedman and Myron Beldock, with research assistance from the commune members, won a last-ditch hearing for their client, after all his other appeals were exhausted. They sought a writ of habeas corpus, a legal move that would have him set free for constitutional violations at his trial. (Mr. Artis had been paroled in 1981.)
On November 7, 1985, U.S. federal judge H. Lee Sarokin sided with Mr. Carter, saying the prosecution failed to disclose Mr. Bello’s lie detector tests, which raised serious questions about his recanted testimony, and wrongly pursued what he declared a prejudicial “racial revenge” theory.
“The extensive record clearly clearly demonstrates that [Mr. Carter’s and Mr. Artis’s] convictions were predicated upon an appeal to racism rather than reason, and concealment rather than disclosure,” wrote the judge, who was greeted each year afterward on the anniversary of his ruling with a phone call of thanks from Mr. Carter.