The Hurricane: Fact vs Fiction

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter vs George Benton

Rubin Carter, a former middleweight African-American boxer known as ‘Hurricane,’ for how he fought in the boxing ring spent 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, making him a renowned victim of injustice. He was immortalized in Bob Dylan’s song “Hurricane,” which protested his wrongful conviction in 1967 for the killings of three people in a bar. Eventually, Carter was released in 1985 after a federal judge ruled that he did not receive a fair trial due to racism and withheld evidence. Following his release, Carter became an advocate for the wrongly accused. The film “The Hurricane,” starring Denzel Washington in the lead role, focused on his prison plight but did not accurately depict most of the events. After learning the real story, I preferred the true account over the film.

  1. It is unknown whether the stabbing of a man by Carter at the age of 11 occurred due to the former being an alleged paedophile who looked like he was harassing a friend of the latter although other versions according to Carter say that it was, he himself who was being molested by that man. It is known that Carter stole a watch and $55 from a man who he stabbed during the stealing and there is no mention of the man being a paedophile who harassed anyone close to Carter although he insisted to this day that the man was trying to molest him. Carter also got into trouble by hitting the local preacher whom he often disagreed with and thanks to his troubled relationship with his father often received graphic repramindings and he was who was not afraid to hand his son over to the police if things got out of hand due to his son’s violent streak and attitude. 
  2. After escaping his first imprisonment, Carter joined the army, where he developed an interest in boxing. He defeated the army’s champion boxer but faced court-martial five times. Deemed unfit for military service due to his criminal record, he was sent back to prison upon leaving the army. Additionally, he was not released in 1961 but in 1957. 
  3. The film accurately depicts Carter’s victory over Emile Griffith, but it fails to accurately handle Joey Giardiello’s fight against Carter, which was sparked by Griffith’s loss to Carter. In real life, Giardiello won the fight fairly without significant injuries, and even Carter himself agreed that Giardiello was the rightful victor. The film’s producers later settled out of court, compensating Giardiello generously, and the director acknowledged his champion status on the home video release.

  4. Carter was initially known to dislike his nickname ‘Hurricane’ which described the way he fought in the ring though he eventually grew to like it.

  5. Carter’s criminal history, ignored by Bob Dylan in the song ‘Hurricane’ that immortalized him, briefly mentions his aggressive personality and antagonistic remarks during his civil rights activism regarding wanting to shoot police after an African-American youth was killed by them during a struggle. The movie also omits that Dylan was inspired to write the song after reading Carter’s autobiography and meeting him in prison. Furthermore, the song inaccurately labels Carter as a ‘number one contender’ when he was actually ranked 9th during his arrest and had never been higher than third. His boxing career was in decline.

  6. Sargent Detective Vincent Della Pesca, was modelled after Lt Vincent DeSimone, the leading detective in the bar killings that Carter was wrongly accused and convicted of. DeSimone had never met Carter before the Lafayette Bar and Grill murders and so did not harass him as a child. He only met Carter for the first time on the night of the murders although Carter had already heard of DeSimone even before meeting him since DeSimone was a renowned detective. He was not one of the detectives who pressed a shooting victim to identify whether or not Carter and John Artis were the men who were responsible for the killings. DeSimone resigned from his job in 1969, two years after Carter and Artis were convicted due to his displeasure with the way a murder investigation was being handled. He passed away in 1979, making it impossible for him to threaten Carter’s Canadian supporters or be present at the 1985 Federal Court hearing that led to Carter’s release. DeSimone’s son defended his father’s depiction, asserting that he was an honest cop and not racist as portrayed in the movie, though Carter’s lawyers maintain that DeSimone was not supportive of Carter.

  7. At the time of the killings, Carter was at another bar, the Nite Spot, a few miles away from the Lafayette Bar and Grill and when he was going home, he was accompanied by two passengers, John Artis and another friend. Carter was in the back seat, lying down asleep. The police initially stopped Carter’s car at the Lafayette Bar and Grill but let them go, mistaking the number of occupants. However, they were stopped again after dropping off their friend and asked to come to the hospital, where one of the shooting victims failed to identify them as the killers, despite detective pressure (while it is thought the victim said it was not Carter and Artis who were the killers, he could actually not tell if they were the people responsible). Carter and Artis took a disputed lie detector exam before being released, though Carter’s results indicated some knowledge of the crime.

  8. On the night of the murders, Carter searched for lost army guns with matching ammunition found in his car, similar to the killers’ weapons although fingerprints were not taken at the crime scene. Carter and Artis testified before a grand jury, not indicted as Detective DeSimone cleared them due to mismatched identification and circumstances. The mayor offered a $1,000 reward to capture the killers, leading to Carter’s pursuit due to his criminal history. 
  9. Following the investigation into the murders at the Lafayette Bar and Grill, Carter went to fight in Rosario, Santa Fee in Argentina where he lost to Juan Carlos Rivero. As soon as he returned, he and Artis were arrested and charged for the murders due to the testimony of thieves Alfred Bello and Arthur (Dexter) Bradley who claimed to be within inch of the killers and identified them as Carter and Artis.

  10. After hearing testimony from neighbours Patricia Valentine, who lived above the bar, and Bello and Bradley, who were close to the murderers during their escape, the prosecution presented the bloodstained clothes of the shooting victims to the jury since there was no evidence of blood on the defendants, which the movie did not cover in detail, including the testimony of people who were with Carter at the Nite Spot during the murders. The state’s initial theory that Carter had been drinking on the night of the murders, leading him and Artis to commit the crime, was later dropped when Carter testified. Artis remained loyal to Carter and did not testify against him, resulting in their conviction for first-degree murder. The prosecution sought the death penalty, but the jury recommended mercy, suggesting a life sentence for each defendant.

  11. Upon arriving at prison, Carter not wanting to be treated as a guilty man, defiantly rejected wearing the prison uniform, leading to solitary confinement for him. His resistance resulted in severe swelling of his right eye during this isolation period. Despite persistent refusals, he was eventually given pyjamas instead of prison attire. His eye condition deteriorated to the point of requiring an operation, resulting in a prosthetic replacement. Lt. Jimmy Williams was based on a sympathetic guard who empathized with Carter. Because Carter refused to eat in the dining room, preferring not to eat at all, younger prisoners as well as other sympathetic guards provided him with food, such as beans or soup which he ate in his cell. The film omits that a guard crushed Carter’s 30th birthday cake, suspecting weapons smuggling, and only gave him the crumbs. Carter declined seeing parole officers and teaching boxing to fellow inmates but hoped to resume his boxing career while fighting to prove his innocence.

  12. The film omits Carter’s involvement in a 1971 prison fight, leading to his determination to prove innocence and pursue law, eventually authoring his autobiography, The 16th Round, as he became known as ‘the most charismatic prisoner ever.’

  13. Fred Hogan, a private investigator who believed in Carter’s innocence due to his autobiography, played a significant role in the investigation but is not seen in the film. He discovered evidence that Bello and Bradley were coerced by authorities to lie during the trial, leading Bello to recant his testimony to the press, prompting Bradley to follow suit. Hogan also found a crucial tape made by Vincent DeSimone, wherein the detective promised leniency to Bello in exchange for cooperation, suggesting Carter was framed. DeSimone even threatened reporter Selwyn Raab, who was investigating the case and had come to see him. Following a second trial in 1976 tht saw Carter and Artis convicted again, DeSimone resigned amid allegations of framing both men. Before his death in 1979, DeSimone expressed remorse over potentially imprisoning an innocent person.

  14. Despite seven years of unsuccessful appeals and requests for another trial, the New Jersey State Supreme Court ordered a new trial for Carter and Artis based on withheld evidence that could have aided the defence although prior to this, Judge Samuel Larner, who sentenced Carter and Artis to three to four consecutive life terms, denied Bello’s recantation of his and Bradley’s statements. This led to a campaign for a pardon or retrial, garnering support from celebrities like Muhammed Ali, Ellen Burstyn, and Bob Dylan. Dylan’s song ‘Hurricane,’ inspired by Carter’s autobiography, rallied public support for Carter during his incarceration and when a new trial was underway.

  15. In the second trial, Bello again identified Carter and Artis as the gunmen, and the prosecution introduced a motive (that they could not theorise at the first trial), which was racial revenge for the killing of an African American tavern owner by the previous white tavern owner over a business dispute. The prosecution theorized that the tavern owner and the patrons were killed to eliminate potential witnesses. Carter’s friend, the murdered tavern owner’s stepson, was angered by the situation and wanted revenge. The prosecution asserted that Carter took it upon himself to seek revenge and convinced Artis to join him in killing white people (which the victims at the Lafayette Bar and Grill were). Bello claimed that changed his testimony because Raab promised him a job to recant in the first place, which Raab denied doing so. Before the trial, the prosecution offered Carter and Artis a deal for a second lie-detector exam to avoid going to court again, but Carter refused. This, along with Carter’s decision not to testify, may have contributed to their reconviction. The second jury was also diverse, including two African-Americans. Bradley, who could have been a witness, refused to cooperate with the authorities and did not testify due to this.

  16. The prosecution in both trials tried to establish if Carter’s car resembled the killers’ car shortly after the crime. The supporting witnesses, Patricia Valentine and Ronald Rugerio (apart from Bello) claimed that Carter’s car was indeed the one driven by the killers. The defence argued that the matching appearance was a mere coincidence, and there was no evidence to implicate Carter or Artis in the murders. Nevertheless, both men were convicted again.

  17. In the film, Carter contacts attorney Myron Beldock seven years after his conviction, requesting a new trial. In reality, Beldock only joined Carter’s defence team during the retrial, which was ordered by the Supreme Court due to withheld evidence. At the retrial, Beldock was joined by attorney Lewis Steel, who was absent in the movie. Steel faced contempt of court during the second trial while arguing against the prosecution’s theory that the murders were racially motivated in retaliation for an earlier killing of an African-American. This happened because the lead prosecutor unfairly convinced the judge that the case could only be won if the racial-revenge theory was presented which was not a right procedure in court but somehow no action was taken against the person responsible for it.

  18. While the movie and a few accounts told in books about Carter depicts him divorcing his wife Mae Thelma as he is unable to bear her seeing him behind bars, in truth she divorced him after the second trial because she found out that he had been unfaithful to her due to his seeming romance with many female supporters one of whom claims that Carter viciously beat her up which Carter denies due to her being rejected romantically by him. Despite Carter’s years of emotional pain being over thanks to his divorce which he believed would lift burden off his wife from seeing him behind bars, he and Thelma have two children from their marriage, a daughter Theodora and a son Raheem who was born shortly after his father was convicted a second time. Following his divorce, he focused on finding inner peace and becoming a better man, letting go of his hatred towards those he blamed for his losses, like his career and family.

  19. Despite Bob Dylan’s efforts to raise awareness of Carter’s plight with his song ‘Hurricane,’ he did not attend the second trial and never performed or addressed the case again. Patricia Valentine, who felt negatively portrayed in the song, tried to sue him three years later. However, her appeal was dismissed by a federal court, acknowledging the accuracy of Dylan’s song which she was forced to later admit. Valentine’s belief in Carter’s guilt remains however, as she expressed in newspaper interviews after watching the film. Dylan apologized to Carter after his release from prison for not being able to do more for him, but he has remained silent on the case ever since.

  20. Artis, offered freedom for implicating Carter as the killer due to perceived guilt, remained loyal to him. Despite prison, Artis was allowed to attend college, married, and was paroled in 1981 although briefly returned to prison on drug charges. Upon his release again, he later became a counsellor in Virginia. Carter celebrated Artis’ release, but his own appeal was denied, feeling like a life-altering moment. He embraced acceptance regardless of the outcome.

  21. The team of Canadian entrepreneurs who changed the life of Lesra Martin by helping him to read and write after seeing his potential (despite him coming from an alcoholic middle class family in New York) and prepare him for college did not just consist of Sam Chaiton, Terry Swinton and Lisa Peters. There were more members of their team who after hearing of Carter’s predicament, volunteered to help his cause. After Lesra read Carter’s autobiography and believed in his innocence as well as himself, the team moved to Canada to work with Carter’s lawyers, eventually leading to a meeting between Lesra and Carter in prison. Lesra’s Canadian family, inspired by Carter’s book, also had the opportunity to meet him. 
  22. Leon Friedman who joined Carter’s team two years after his reconviction was a more experienced lawyer than Myron Beldock and even a renowned university professor which is completely reversed in the movie and there is no mention of Friedman’s university career

  23. After reading The 16th Round, Lesra and the Canadians faced difficulties locating Carter due to his frequent transfers between Trenton State Prison and Rahway State Prison. What is absent in the movie is that Lesra was genuinely frightened during his first visit to Carter, but Carter comforted him by holding him in his arms. Their communication began with a series of letters, not just two, as depicted in the film after Lesra finishes reading Carter’s book. Carter’s transformation, including shaving his beard and growing his hair, impressed Lesra, unlike how the film portrayed him. After Lesra left, he immediately felt compelled to liberate the an innocent man from prison, and his Canadian adopters agreed that Carter deserved freedom. 
  24. Carter initially hesitated sharing his case with the Canadians, but he changed his mind when he realized they were genuinely trying to help. They brought him thoughtful gifts, including a boxing robe and food he had not eaten in years. Before and after meeting Martin, Carter focused on overcoming his hatred towards white people, when he refrained from raising his hand on a guard during a prison visit by Lisa and was touched by the guard. However, there is no evidence suggesting that Martin gave his high school diploma to Carter.

  25. When Lesra visited his family shortly after gaining good results at university, he attempted to introduce them to Carter’s story although they were not as moved by Carter’s story as he was.

  26. The re-examination of Carter’s case went relatively unnoticed in the media, but it caught the attention of one of his cousins who was dissatisfied with the juries’ verdicts but received encouragement from a cab driver who informed him about the developments in the case. While the Canadians worked with Carter’s lawyers on the case, Lewis Steel was the only attorney of Carter’s team who was reluctant to try the case again, yet he eventually partook in proving Carter’s innocence on seeing how unfair both trials were.

  27. Carter’s lawyers were upset that they did not receive fair credit in the film as they worked equally with the Canadians to assemble evidence for Carter’s innocence rather than the Canadians uncovering evidence and bringing it to them. Lesra was also not present with those members of the team who were working on Carter’s case but was instead studying for his exams back in Canada.

  28. Carter’s lawyers spoke with a man who conducted polygraph tests on Bello before the second trial and despite those lie-detector test results implying that Bello might have been telling the truth, it was later revealed that the lie detector test results of Bello were worded in a way which made it appear that Bello was telling the story that the prosecutors wanted to hear and that itself was the truth when it was not.

  29. There was no investigator named Dominic Barbieri although the Canadians did uncover notes from a diary written by a private investigator which revealed that prosecutors were suppressing evidence at the trials as well as coercing testimony from key witnesses, many of whom were close to Carter and threatened by authorities at the first trial. Some of Carter’s alibi witnesses however did admit in the second trial that they lied in the first but had been telling the truth as well in the sense that they knew Carter would never kill.

  30. Once enough evidence was brought together, it was not only Carter’s suggestion to take the case to federal court but also Friedman’s, recognizing that it would be Carter’s final chance for freedom. They based their approach on habeas corpus to determine if there was a violation of the United States constitution. Failing at the Federal Court meant Carter could only be released on parole in 2000 while completing 30 more years in the process if he had been ruled against. Carter had resolved not to remain in prison any longer and was prepared to face either judicial release or even death. Before applying to the federal court, Carter abandoned all previous appeals, having failed in the last attempt. He shared this with Lesra, who, along with the Canadians, fuelled his desire to be out of prison. Now, he was ready to make his last legal stand for freedom, accepting the consequences that may follow.

  31. Judge Haddon Lee Sarokin, the Federal Judge assigned to Carter’s case, was initially unfamiliar with its history. His children gave him a copy of Bob Dylan’s song ‘Hurricane’ when they found out about the case being assigned to him, but he declined to listen to it. He resolved the case in his own way, showing sympathy which was displayed to a lesser extent in the film. He was approached to play himself in the movie but declined initially, later regretting his decision. He understood however, that if Carter was being portrayed by someone else, he should be too.

  32. There was no trial with an audience in person at the Federal Court in 1985 before Judge H. Lee Sarokin. In February 1985, Carter’s defence brought their case to Sarokin and even though the prosecution was present as well, Friedman did most of the talking to disprove that the killings at the Lafayette bar and grill were committed in (racial) revenge for the murder of the African-American tavern owner as there was no evidence to suggest that Carter and Artis had committed the murders nor that they had any hostility towards white people (especially those who they did not even know) since the killer of the murdered African-American was sent to prison almost immediately (despite him being released 30 years later) and Carter had always had a pleasant equation with most white people, having even had white boxing agents or managers. However, Carter was not actually present in the courtroom. The case had nothing to do with forgeries and lies as the lawyers claim in the film.

  33. On November 7th, 1985, Sarokin granted Carter’s release from prison, stating that both trials violated their constitutional rights due the first one having withheld evidence. The prosecution in the second trial failed to provide any evidence of Carter and Artis’s involvement in the murder of the African American man or their anger about it. When the decision was delivered to Carter and the Canadians in prison the next day, the entire prison cheered, recognizing Carter’s unwavering attitude throughout his incarceration.

  34. The next day after Carter cleared out his cell in anticipation of a positive outcome, he went to court before Sarokin (who saw him for the first time) where the prosecution attempted to prove (once again) that Carter was a threat to the community and wanted to keep him in prison until his appeals were exhausted. However Sarokin rejected his argument. Carter’s family including his mother and cousins were also present at court although unlike the film, Carter did not address the court with a speech and Lesra was not in attendance neither was Friedman, only Beldock and Steel were Carter’s lawyers for that day. While Sarokin made his statement which revealed that the violation of the constitutional rights of Carter and Artis were as heinous as the crimes for which they were convicted, at least one person yelled in anticipation that Carter would be released before Sarokin completed his statement freeing Carter at which the entire courtroom erupted with cheers and applause

  35. Following his release by the federal court, Carter did not interact with the media like the film depicts but slipped away quietly while Artis who was present at the trial did answer questions from the media with the lawyers and stated that ‘justice had been served’

  36. In 1988, the Supreme Court upheld Sarokin’s decision, setting Carter and Artis free and dropping all charges against them. Carter then moved to Canada, briefly staying with the commune that helped free him. He authored a book with them, got briefly married to Lisa for two years and later founded the Association in Defense of the Wrongly Convicted. Lesra later graduated from the University of Toronto with honours and pursued law. After practicing as a Crown Prosecutor (similar to a District Attorney), he became a motivational speaker and authored a book about overcoming illiteracy. 
  37. Carter was given an honorary boxing belt by the World Boxing Council in recognition for his 18-year fight for justice although while the ending of the film says he was the only fighter to receive it, so too did his opponent Joey Giardello who was one of the many boxers to have defeated him. Today however while Carter supports boxing, he finds it somewhat disturbing and while continuing to view himself as ‘the Hurricane’ believes that the only way he can function like one is using his voice to raise an awareness of innocence and prevent wrongful conviction.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.