Tribute to 'death penalty' boxer

A British human rights barrister who tried to overturn the wrongful murder conviction of US boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter has paid tribute to him following his death at the age of 76.

Former boxer, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter,  holds up the writ of habeas corpus that freed him from prison
Former boxer, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, holds up the writ of habeas corpus that freed him from prison

Geoffrey Robertson QC was part of Carter's defence team at his retrial in 1976 after the sportsman had been jailed for a triple murder in Paterson, New Jersey 10 years earlier.

Mr Robertson, who founded the renowned Doughty Street Chambers, said Carter was "demonised" by prosecutors using the "inflammatory race card" and he became a "living argument against the death penalty".

It took a further nine years before Carter was eventually freed in November 1985.

Mr Robertson said: "Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter's first conviction and his reconviction were miscarriages of justice by prosecutors who had evidence of his innocence and demonised him for his black power activism in front of small town white jurors.

"I'll never forget walking with him down the streets of Paterson, New Jersey, and receiving the stares of raw hatred from white folk of the town.

"The prosecutors whipped up hysteria against his supporters including Bob Dylan and the New York Times.

"He had another brush with the death penalty and served 10 more years in prison before his conviction was quashed because of the inflammatory race card played by the prosecutor and the failure to disclose exculpatory evidence.

"After his release he became a living argument against the death penalty. It's partially through his efforts that the number of judicial killings have fallen dramatically in the United States from several hundred to only 39 last year and increasingly states are abolishing this abhorrent punishment."

Carter, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer, died in his sleep at home in Toronto earlier today, according to his long-time friend and carer John Artis.

He spent 19 years in prison after he was convicted alongside Artis in 1967 and again in a new trial in 1976.

Carter was freed in 1985 when his convictions were set aside after years of appeals and public advocacy.

His ordeal and the alleged racial motivations behind it were publicised 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.

Carter's murder convictions abruptly ended the boxing career of a former petty criminal who became an undersized middleweight contender largely on ferocity and punching power.

Although never a world champion, Carter memorably stopped two-division champion Emile Griffith in the first round in 1963. He also fought for a middleweight title in December 1964, losing a unanimous decision to Joey Giardello.

Speaking of his murder conviction in 2011, Carter told the US network PBS: "I wouldn't give up. No matter that they sentenced me to three life terms in prison. I wouldn't give up. Just because a jury of 12 misinformed people found me guilty did not make me guilty. And because I was not guilty, I refused to act like a guilty person."

Along with Dylan's support, Muhammad Ali also spoke out on Carter's behalf, while advertising art director George Lois and other celebrities also worked toward Carter's release.

He eventually won his release after US District Judge H Lee Sarokin ruled that Carter's prosecution had been "predicated upon an appeal to racism rather than reason, and concealment rather than disclosure."