When Rubin “Hurricane” Carter died the other day, the newspapers were filled with articles praising him as some sort of a civil-rights activist who was jailed for a crime he didn’t commit.
Nonsense. These guys needed to do their research before parroting untruths.
For one thing, Carter did not do any civil-rights advocacy of any type before he was convicted of murder.
If you can find any proof he did, stop reading this and go to the website of reporter Cal Deal debunking the Carter myth. You can collect a cash reward if you can provide any evidence Carter was an advocate of civil rights before those murders in 1966.
As for the murders themselves, there is ample evidence that both of Carter’s convictions were correct. You will see that both on Cal Deal’s site and in my writings on the subject below. Carter was never cleared of the murders by any court. The prosecutor could have tried him a third time after he was let off by an outrageously liberal judge who was a publicity hound. But the prosecutor decided it was not worth the effort given that Carter had already spent so much time in prison.
The articles below appeared in the Star-Ledger in 2000, when that dreadful movie “The Hurricane” came out. Even Carter’s defenders admit that movie was one big lie. But many of the obituary writers accepted it as true and repeated the scenes as fact, without giving the attribution that journalists are supposed to provide.
Much of the rest came from self-aggrandizing books Carter wrote. That includes that story about how he saved a prison guard in a riot. I spoke to a prisoner who was jailed with him at the time and he said there was no such incident.
By the way, note my interview with John Artis in the last piece. If his plain words are any indication, even Artis didn’t buy into the myth of Carter’s innocence.
Compare those glowing accounts of carter’s life to Cal’s site and to my writings below and see what you think. The headlines are in bold:
This Hurricane is full of hot air
Pop stars come and pop stars go, but amid all this change there is one eternal truth:
Whenever Bob Dylan writes a song about a guy, the guy is guilty as sin.
That was the case with California psychopath George Jackson (“Lord, lord they shot George Jackson down”), New York mobster Joey Gallo (“Joe-eee, Joe-eee, why did they have to come and blow you A-way”) and Paterson’s own Rubin “Hurricane” Carter (In perhaps the dumbest couplet of a dumb career, Dylan rhymes “trigger” with the N-word.)
Juries twice found Carter guilty of a triple murder. The evidence against him was overwhelming. He finally was granted a third trial on a technicality, but no judge ever said or implied that he was framed or that he did not commit the murders.
You wouldn’t know that from the new movie “The Hurricane” – or by the gullible reaction to it by supposedly neutral journalists. In headline after headline, the reviews refer to Carter as a boxer who was “framed” and treat the fictional version of events as if they had occurred in real life.
The movie disregards or distorts virtually every fact of the case. It starts with the fudging of Carter’s criminal record to make it appear that Carter, then 24, was in jail in 1961 because he fought back against a child molester when he was 11. In fact, he was in jail because he mugged people when he was an adult.
Then there’s his fight record. The movie has him pummeling Philadelphian Joey Giardello in a middleweight title bout only to be robbed of a decision. In fact, Giardello won convincingly. Carter griped about the judges, but a poll of ringside sportswriters had Giardello winning 11 rounds to four. Giardello is threatening to sue over his portrayal.
The movie seems to lie compulsively. It even distorts events that had no bearing on the case. The plot involves the efforts of four members of a Canadian commune who move to New Jersey in the early 1980s to free Carter. After months of digging, they discover an investigator’s notes stating that the killings actually happened not at 2:45 a.m. as alleged by the police but at 2:30 a.m. – a fact they deem crucial to Carter’s alleged alibi.
I could have saved them a lot of digging. I checked the Star-Ledger’s clips of the May 1967 trial. The cops testified that the killings happened at 2:30 a.m.
And then there’s the alibi itself. At his first trial, Carter produced witness after witness who testified he was somewhere else at the time of the killing. But in his second trial in 1976, four of the alibi witnesses from the first trial took the stand and admitted they lied. “There were a lot of lies at the last trial,” testified ex-alibi witness Catherine McGuire, who at the first trial had testified she was with Carter at the time of the killings.
Carter won the right to a second trial because of a media campaign based on the theory that the key witness against him, a petty crook named Alfred Bello, had recanted his eyewitness identification of Carter and co-defendant John Artis. But when Bello took the stand at the second trial, he gave the reason he had recanted: He had been promised $27,000 by Carter’s defense team. Whoops. Carter was convicted again.
He did get out of prison for a brief time, though, and he returned to his fighting career. This time he chose his opponents more wisely. In a Maryland hotel room, he beat up the woman who had led the effort to spring him.
That’s another fact curiously left out of the film. But the movie’s biggest distortion concerns the events on the evening of the killings. Earlier that evening, a black bar owner in Paterson had been shot to death by a white man. Seven hours later, two black males entered the Lafayette Bar and Grill and shot everyone in the place without
attempting a holdup.
At the 1976 trial, the prosecution argued that revenge was the motive. After the first shooting, Carter had spoken with the black victim’s relatives and had inquired about a shotgun, evidence showed. And Carter himself had testified to a grand jury that there was talk in the black community of “shaking,” a slang term for revenge.
But on screen, the prosecution argues that the motive for the shootings was simply that the bar did not serve blacks. The movie then debunks its own lie by having a black actress state that she and other blacks drank at the bar regularly.
This is crucial to the technicality that finally sprung Carter. After almost two decades of judge- shopping, Carter’s defense team finally had the good fortune to come up before federal Judge Lee Sarokin, perhaps the most liberal judge in the nation. Sarokin ordered a new trial on the grounds that the prosecution should not have been permitted to argue that racial revenge was the motive.
”For the state to contend that an accused has the motive to commit murder solely because of his membership in a racial group is an argument which should never be permitted to sway a jury or provide the basis of a conviction,” Sarokin wrote.
By that standard, of course, the prosecution in the Texas dragging death of James Byrd Jr. would have had to find some other motive than the racism that so clearly led to the actions of the three killers.
Even Sarokin did not state Carter was innocent. The Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office could have tried Carter a third time but chose not to. Witnesses had died and Carter was nearing his parole date anyway. Artis was already out on parole.
So the case ended not with a bang but with a whimper. As for the movie, it seems never to end at all. As it entered its third hour, and the Canadians thrashed about looking for clues and Denzel Washington kept making wise observations like Yoda from “Star Wars,” I began to think I was the one who’d been unfairly given a life sentence.
‘Hurricane’ slurs the name of an honest man
Since I wrote last week about the recently released movie “The Hurricane,” I have heard from a number of people that I can only call Hurricane victims.
People he beat up, but not in the ring. People who watched two juries in two separate trials conclude that he killed their relatives. And people who just wish he’d go away, like the citizen of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter’s current adopted home city of Toronto who e-mailed me with a plea for New Jersey take him back.
Okay, if you Canadians will take back all those geese.
Of all the Hurricane victims, James DeSimone seemed to be the angriest. For good reason. The movie’s portrayal of his father, Passaic County Detective Vincent DeSimone, is so dishonest that it may stand as the single sleaziest thing Hollywood does in the third millennium.
In the movie, the character is given another name – Della Pesca instead of DeSimone – but it’s clear who is being portrayed. And the portrayal is neither flattering nor accurate. DeSimone-Della Pesca is shown as a racist neanderthal who lies, cheats and forges a signature in an effort to frame the heroic Hurricane.
None of that happened in real life. And in real life, Carter was never found to have been framed, as his supporters allege. He was convicted by two juries and served 19 years in prison. He was freed on a technicality and was cut loose only because the case was too
old to be tried for a third time.
These distortions of fact are sleazy enough. But the movie really gets down in the gutter when it makes a not-so-subtle point of portraying the DeSimone character as unattractive. As it happens, the real DeSimone was quite a good looking guy before he went off to fight in World War II. But then he took a German bullet in the face, right below the eye. He had 19 plastic surgeries.
That was how he got into police work, his son says. Before the war, he had been a salesman. Afterwards people called him “Scarface” and he didn’t have the confidence to return to his old line of work. So he became a policeman.
He started out as a street cop in Paterson and worked his way up to become the chief detective in the county. He never had a blemish on his record. His 1966 investigation of the Carter case didn’t change that.
In the mid-1970s, Bob Dylan and half of Hollywood accused DeSimone and other members of the prosecution team of encouraging the state’s key witness, Alfred Bello, to falsify testimony. That got Carter a second trial in 1976. But Bello took the stand and testified that he had changed his story only after offers of cash from the Carter groupies.
And as for witness-tampering, it turned out that it was Carter’s side that had been doing the dirty work. Four of Carter’s alibi witnesses from the first trial admitted they’d lied about his whereabouts on the night in question. Carter went back to jail.
A good place for him. Even before the 1966 killings in the Lafayette Bar and Grill in Paterson, Carter had done enough to earn himself a life sentence. At least, if you take his word for it. Cal Deal, a former reporter who covered the case and who now lives in Florida, has compiled a Website about it (http://www.GRAPHICWITNESS.com/Carter”). It includes a Saturday Evening Post article that was published just before Carter’s middleweight title fight against Joey Giardello in 1964.
In the article, Carter bragged of the knifing that caused him to spend most of his teen years in a Jamesburg reformatory: “That’s right, atrocious assault at age eleven. I stuck a man with my knife. I stabbed him everywhere but the bottom of his feet.” He also described how, after he got out of the reformatory for that offense, he and his partner would go out on the streets of Paterson and “shoot at folks.”
”Sometimes just to shoot at ‘em, sometimes to hit ‘em, sometimes to kill ‘em.”
”I couldn’t begin to tell you how many hits, muggings and stickups. No use even trying to count them. We’d just use the guns like we had a license to carry them.”
None of this is in the movie, of course. If the viewers knew that Carter was the type of guy who’d brag about shooting people in 1964, they’d understand why he might be inclined to put his ideas into practice a mere two years later.
Instead, Carter is portrayed as a clean-living, law-abiding guy. Della Pesca-DeSimone, meanwhile, is portrayed as a vicious racist who shadows Carter throughout his life. The evil detective even goes so far as to threaten the lives of the Canadian commune members who worked on Carter’s defense in 1983. Actually, DeSimone died in 1979. That didn’t stop the screenwriter from getting in that last dig – or an allegation that the detective rose from the grave to sabotage the left front wheel of the Canadians’ Volvo, causing a near-fatal crash.
”I came out of the theater and I was absolutely appalled,” says Jim DeSimone, who is 50 and has a family of his own. “I was his only son. I went through a life of him telling me about honesty and integrity. He was regarded as the most honest guy around.
”I sat there and I said to myself, ‘What is Denzel Washington thinking?’ He should have some conscience as to what he’s doing here.”
Conscience? Not in Hollywood. In Hollywood, there’s money to be made by turning a story on its head. The hard-working guy who fought for his country gets mocked for his war wounds and is portrayed as a villain. And the thug who spends his life stabbing, shooting and beating people gets to be the hero.
As the saying goes, that’s showbiz.
A Hurricane victim tells the story of being beaten by Carter
“His rage was just bad timing on my mother’s part; it could have been me. But his thing was always mugging women anyway.” – MICHAEL KELLEY
The movie “The Hurricane” claims to be based on a true story of a boxer’s life. But it leaves out the one fight that truly revealed the nature of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter: his one-punch knockout of Carolyn Kelley.
Kelley is a nice, hard-working 61-year-old woman from Newark. She was working as a bail bondswoman in 1975 when Muhammad Ali asked her to get involved in the effort to win a new trial for Carter, who claimed he had been framed in a triple murder.
She devoted more than a year of her life to raising funds for Carter. That effort was successful, and Carter’s appeal was upheld. In March 1976, Carter was released on bail to await a new trial.
Six weeks later, the tough middleweight boxer beat the 112-pound Kelley into unconsciousness and left her lying in a fetal position on the floor of his hotel room.
Kelley called me after she read my columns pointing out that the movie distorts virtually every fact of Carter’s life story.
For the first time, she revealed the whole story behind the beating.
In the months immediately after it, she says, she was pressured by Carter’s supporters. They knew they had to keep her from getting the whole story out. Her story reveals not just that Carter was a brutal thug but also reveals key defects in his campaign to prove he was framed. In interviews with Kelley and her son Michael, I heard the details of the beatings.
When Kelley joined the campaign and met Carter in Trenton State Prison, she believed every word he said. He described in detail how he had been framed by the racist criminal justice establishment of Passaic County.
A key part of his story was an assertion that the cops had pressured one of his key alibi witnesses, a boxer named “Wild Bill” Hardney, to leave the state so he couldn’t testify in Carter’s behalf. Hardney had gone to Maryland, Kelley recalls Carter saying. If only he could find Hardney, his former sparring partner could testify that Carter was somewhere else when the slayings occurred.
The campaign to win Carter a new trial was successful, due partly to Kelley’s work as national director of his defense fund. A hit song by Bob Dylan helped as well. Carter was released on bail on March 17, 1976, to await a second trial.
Kelley and her son Michael, then 24, became part of a triumphant Carter entourage that traveled to public appearances and fund-raisers. The Kelleys, who are Muslims and don’t drink, noticed some disturbing things about Carter. For one, he drank large amounts of vodka. And when he drank he became abusive. He had a short temper and ordered Michael around like a servant.
But Carolyn Kelley ignored these early warning signs. She still believed Carter had been framed, so she reacted naively when, at an event prior to the Ali-Jimmy Young fight in Landover, Md., a man called for Carter’s attention.
”I heard this voice from across the room, saying, ‘Hey Rube, it’s me, Wild Bill Hardney,’” Kelley recalls. “The name was burned in my mind. He had told me for a year that this man could clear him. I said, ‘Get a statement from him! Get a statement from him! I’m a notary.’”
Instead, Carter recoiled and his expression changed in a way that frightened her, she says.
”You know how a snake is crawling on the ground and suddenly half of his body is up in the air and his tongue is sticking out, wiggling, wiggling, wiggling, and his eyes are closed almost shut?
”Here’s a man he had said for years could prove he was innocent, and he’s backing up and hissing like a snake.”
The incident put Kelley on guard, she says, but not enough. After she returned to her hotel room, she had to phone Carter about a minor discrepancy over who would pay for the room. She called him twice, she says, and each time he cursed at her. She figured he didn’t recognize her voice, so she got in her car and drove across the complex to his room.
Carter opened the door and burst into maniacal laughter, she recalls. Then he went to the bathroom and began gargling with Charlie cologne. “Then it clicked: I had to get out of there. But there he was, between me and the door.
”I didn’t see it coming,” she says of the punch that floored her. “I felt everything getting dark. I remember praying to Allah, ‘Please help me,’ and apparently Allah rolled me over, and he kicked me in the back instead of kicking my guts out. Allah saved my life.”
Shortly thereafter, her son Michael was called to the room by a couple of other members of the entourage who told him “something happened to my mother in Carter’s room.”
”My mother was laying on the floor, near the door; she was in a fetal position with her back to that door,” he said.
The members of the security team wouldn’t say exactly what happened, Kelley recalls. They suggested she had fallen, “but there was nothing in the room where you might fall and hit your back on, like a dresser.”
He said Carter denied hitting her. “He said, ‘You know I wouldn’t touch her.’ He was denying he put any hands on her.
”I was ready to get a weapon that I had at my disposal. I was going to go to jail that night,” he recalls.
Instead, Michael Kelley fought back his anger. He took his mother to a room and iced down the large lump on her cheek and the black eyes. The next day he put her on a plane back to Newark, where she was met by three Newark women. She collapsed when she got off the plane and had to be given oxygen by flight attendants.
She checked into a hospital and was in traction a month later for her back injuries. Rumors of the beating were starting to get out. Finally Chuck Stone, a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, broke the story of the beating in a front-page article.
Stone had been a strong supporter of Carter’s. But he knew Kelley from other civil rights struggles. He was troubled by the beating. In his column, Stone quoted Kelley:
”Rubin used to tell me time and time again, ‘You’ve met Rubin and you know Carter, but you’ve never met the Hurricane. The Hurricane’s bad. The Hurricane’s mean.
”He’s right. I know the eye of the Hurricane nobody knows. It is a frightening thing, and unless something is done, somebody else is going to get hurt.”
Even after the beating, Kelley still supported Carter. “I don’t want to press charges
because jail is not the place for Rubin. He needs treatment. I don’t want to do anything to hurt him,” she said at the time.
After Stone’s column ran, the beating became a national story. Carter’s celebrity support melted away.
Even worse for Carter, his seeming paranoia about Wild Bill Hardney turned out not to be paranoia after all. At Carter’s second trial, Hardney testified that Carter had asked him to back up a false alibi that had him drinking at a bar called the Nite Spot at the time of the killings. Three other Carter alibi witnesses also testified that they had lied at the first trial.
Then there was the matter of the alleged recantation of Alfred Bello, the eyewitness who in the first trial testified that he had seen Carter leaving the murder scene but who later said he had made up that story. At the second trial, he recanted his recantation, saying he had been offered money by people close to Carter. The jury quickly convicted Carter and co-defendant John Artis once again.
The movie skips over these events, other than to state falsely that the second trial was before an all-white jury. It wasn’t. In fact, the movie glosses over every crime in Carter’s career. In real life, he earned jail time for a long list of offenses that range from purse-snatchings to brutal muggings. In the movie, he is framed every time. Onscreen, for example, he is sent to a reformatory as a young boy after breaking a bottle over the head of a child molester who is menacing his friend. In real life, he was sent to the reformatory for breaking a bottle over the head of a man from whom he stole a wristwatch and $55.
These two events have one thing in common – the bottle.
This, apparently, is what “based on a true story” means.
The movie totally ignores what happened to Kelley, but Carter has given several versions of what happened that night in his motel room. Here’s a surprise: He was framed! Kelley faked the beating because they were having an affair – if you believe Carter’s version in his authorized biography “The Hurricane.” Or maybe they weren’t having an affair, if you believe what he told WNEW-TV’s Marvin Scott in June 1976. Or she made it up because she wanted to blackmail Carter out of $250,000 (Scott interview) or $100,000 (“Hurricane” book).
One problem for Carter: She didn’t make it up. Her son Michael’s account is supported by the records of her extensive injuries. And Stone, who was recently named one of the leading black journalists of the century by the National Association of Black Journalists, has no doubt that Kelley was beaten by Carter.
A court also found that Carter beat Kelley. Passaic County Judge William Marchese held hearings on the incident in July 1976 and changed the terms of Carter’s bail after determining that the assault had occurred.
Other court documents show that Carter had a habit of attacking the weak. His prison record shows that he severely beat a “slight and severely retarded inmate” named Wallace six years before the Kelley beating.
Even in his own book, “The Sixteenth Round,” Carter has made reference to his violent nature and his lack of any remorse.
”If I committed a crime in the eyes of society, I took no blame. I felt no more responsible for my actions than for the winds,” Carter wrote.
Michael Kelley recalls that in the month before the beating, Carter seemed to be constantly on the edge of an explosion.
”His rage was just bad timing on my mother’s part; it could have been me,” he says. “But his thing was always mugging women anyway.”
Carolyn Kelley has been cured of any illusions about Carter. She chose to speak out because she is appalled that the national media are ignoring the facts of the case. She saw him on the recent telecast of the Golden Globe awards lecturing the gullible showbiz audience on love.
”I sat there and my heart was beating out of my chest. I was in pain. How dare you talk about love? You can’t love anyone, even yourself.”
She has this explanation for how Carter has gotten the nation to ignore his thuggish past and treat him as a hero. “He’s Satan, and Satan can fool a lot of people.”
But she says he is not quite the fighter he claims to be. “As good as he is, he’s not that good. I’m still here.”
”He has brought this into the 17th round and I’m gonna win the 17th round.”
Maybe she will. At the moment, Carter has reduced the journalists of America to the status of starstruck groupies, but maybe her revelations will get a few of them to take a look at the facts of his life. Article after article has Carter being “framed” or “jailed for a crime he didn’t commit” when in fact he was convicted by two juries. He had his conviction overturned only because it was heard by a federal judge who had a reputation for being among the most pro-defense judges in the nation.
The prosecutor could have tried him a third time if the case had not been 22 years old at the time. So the jury is still out on just who killed those three people on that night in 1966.
But Carolyn Kelley is no longer among those who believe Carter was framed.
”If he could do that to me, a woman who was no threat to him, then he has erased in my mind any doubt that he could kill three or four innocent people,” Kelley says.
Rubin Carter and the cult of the avenger
When the Oscars are given out tonight, there is a good chance that Hollywood will rise in unison to commemorate the actor who portrayed Rubin “Hurricane” Carter in his heroic struggle to proclaim his innocence.
But the other day I had a talk with someone who doesn’t buy Carter’s alibi: John Artis.
A curious fact left out of the movie is that Artis, who was Carter’s co-defendant in the triple murder, has never agreed with Carter on exactly what the two were doing on that fateful night in Paterson 34 years ago.
Carter’s alibi involves Artis in a complicated story of how the two men spent the night of the murders driving from one bar to another. But Artis maintains that he spent the evening dancing in one bar, the Nite Spot. He says his contact with Carter in the early hours of June 17, 1966, was limited to a chance meeting around closing time. Artis says he asked for a ride home and then got stopped by the cops and implicated in the murder.
When I called Artis recently, he stuck to his story. He said he had no idea what Carter was doing during the hours when, according to Carter, the two were together.
”I don’t know,” Artis said. “I was a dancer. I wasn’t there monitoring what people were doing.”
The bar closed around 2:30 a.m., roughly the same time three people were gunned down in another bar just a few blocks away. I asked Artis whether it is possible Carter could have killed three people in the moments before he offered Artis a ride home.
”Good question,” Artis said.
So there it is. Hollywood is convinced Rubin Carter was railroaded. But the man who was closest to him at the time is not so sure. Surprising? Not at all.
The Carter case fits a familiar pattern, one that might be called the cult of the avenger. There is always one of these cases in the news. There’s always some guy who claims he was unjustly convicted of killing someone. And there’s always a cult of true believers devoted to proving their hero was denied a fair trial.
The interesting thing is that the weight of evidence against the hero is irrelevant. In fact, the guiltier the better. That is proven by the case of the man who has succeeded Carter as a cult hero, Mumia Abu-Jamal. Unlike Carter, who at least had the good sense not to be stopped at the scene of the crime, Jamal was literally caught with a smoking gun. He was sitting just a few feet away from the Philadelphia cop he had shot to death.
But Jamal’s lack of an alibi put him at no disadvantage. In the years since his conviction in 1982, Jamal has assembled what may be the largest such cult in history. From his cell on death row in Pennsylvania, Jamal inspired a riot in San Francisco. He is idolized in Paris, London and Amsterdam.
But Jamal has virtually no support in Philadelphia, just as Carter has few supporters in New Jersey. Those who know the reality are not prone to buy the myth.
So each cult requires a caste of priests, true believers close to the hero who can translate the texts for the masses far away. What motivates these people is particularly intriguing. Anyone who studies one of these cases soon comes up against the weight of the evidence, which is considerable in the Carter case and overwhelming in the Jamal case. A person intelligent enough to craft a defense is also intelligent enough to grasp that the hero certainly looks like the most likely suspect.
The response is to retreat into legalisms. Both Carter’s and Jamal’s defenders have a habit of dodging questions about innocence and instead focusing on legal loopholes that might give their hero his freedom even if he did commit the crime.
This is most striking in the case of Jamal. He has never denied shooting the police officer. Even his legal team won’t categorically state that he didn’t do it. But by the time this message gets to France and California, it is somehow transmuted into a ringing defense of his unquestioned innocence.
Actually, the real issue here has less to do with questions of guilt and innocence than with the need for armchair intellectuals and Hollywood types to indulge their fantasies of violence. Intellectuals by definition don’t do much that is physical, so they love the fantasy of violence.
Perhaps the only one of these characters who hasn’t become the subject of a cult of innocence was a man spawned by Hollywood itself. This guy had it all. An intriguing look, a nonconformist lifestyle, a charismatic message. And there were quite a few holes in the prosecution’s case that sent him to prison.
But this guy made one crucial mistake: Instead of killing a cop, he killed an actress. If not for that minor oversight, we might have been treated to the spectacle of a Sheen or a Baldwin up there on stage tonight with one hand clutching a statue and another wrapped around the waist of Charles Manson.