Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter, the famous professional boxer who was wrongly convicted of murder by an all-white jury in 1967 but later exonerated, has died in Toronto at the age of 76.
"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... To live in a world where truth matters and justice, however late, really happens, that world would be heaven enough for us all." —Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter (1937-2014)
His death was confirmed by family friends close to the man whose journey of racially-charged imprisonment helped fuel the prisoner rights movement while becoming the subject of books, a famous Bob Dylan 70's protest song, and a feature Hollywood film.
According to the Associated Press:
He had been stricken with prostate cancer in Toronto, the New Jersey native's adopted home. John Artis, a longtime friend and caregiver, told The Canadian Press that Carter died in his sleep.
Carter spent 19 years in prison for three murders at a tavern in Paterson, N.J., in 1966. He was convicted alongside Artis in 1967 and again in a new trial in 1976.
Carter was freed in November 1985 when his convictions were set aside after years of appeals and public advocacy. His ordeal and the alleged racial motivations behind it were publicized in Bob Dylan's 1975 song "Hurricane," several books and a 1999 film starring Denzel Washington, who received an Academy Award nomination for playing the boxer turned prisoner.
Following his ultimate and final release from prison, Carter dedicated much of his life to helping other prisoners, working with the Canada-based Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted for which he served as executive director from 1999 to 2005.
In a statement, the AIDWYC expressed being "deeply saddened" by Carter's passing but celebrated his commitment to the cause of justice:
Rubin made it his life’s mission to help others who had been wrongly convicted after his own exoneration for crimes he did not commit, but for which he spent 19 years in prison. Rubin’s celebrity status as a championship boxer and his wrongful conviction generated significant media attention worldwide which helped draw attention to his work in Canada with AIDWYC. Rubin spent many years supporting the work of AIDWYC by reviewing cases, attending inquiries, participating in press conferences, supporting the wrongly convicted (both in Canada and abroad), and encouraging important changes in the Canadian and American criminal justice related to wrongful convictions. Rubin was the “face” of AIDWYC for many years and was devoted to raising awareness of these grave injustices. Rubin promoted and participated in every AIDWYC event and brought worldwide attention to our mission.
Rubin will be remembered by those at AIDWYC who were fortunate enough to have worked with him as a truly courageous man who fought tirelessly to free others who had suffered the same fate as he. We are honoured that Rubin played a significant role in the history of our organization. We will continue to fight against wrongful convictions, a battle that Rubin valiantly fought until the day he died.
Rest in peace Rubin, your battle is over but you will never be forgotten.
In an op-ed earlier this year—written from what he described as his literal "deathbed"—Carter said that his "single regret in life is that David McCallum of Brooklyn — a man incarcerated in 1985, the same year I was released, and represented by Innocence International since 2004 — is still in prison."
On McCallum's case and his own wrongful conviction, Carter wrote:
I was freed from a living hell by the brave Judge H. Lee Sarokin, after I was given help from dedicated people who did so for no payment beyond the thanks I was able to give.
McCallum was incarcerated two weeks after I was released, reborn into the miracle of this world. Now I’m looking death straight in the eye; he’s got me on the ropes, but I won’t back down.
I ask Thompson to look straight in the eye of truth, a tougher customer than death, and not back down either.
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. My aim in helping this fine man is to pay it forward, to give the help that I received as a wrongly convicted man to another who needs such help now.
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.
To live in a world where truth matters and justice, however late, really happens, that world would be heaven enough for us all.
The Bob Dylan version of the Rubin Carter story—titled "Hurricane" and released on his 1976 album Desire—helped the story rise to national prominence:
And the film "Hurricane," starring Denzel Washington, was released in 1999: