By Cal Deal
Rubin "Hurricane" Carter is a free man , although
two juries nine years apart found him guilty of a 1966 triple
murder in Paterson, N.J.. He is a free man, although no judge
declared him innocent of the bloody crime. He is a free man because
of "misconduct" by the prosecution, a decision that
ignores the weight of the evidence in favor of protecting Constitutional
As a reporter for The Herald-News in Passaic, N.J., I went
into this case thinking Carter was probably innocent. The press
was full of stories about the recanted testimony of a key witness,
and it seemed that Carter had been framed. As a municipal beat
reporter, I had no prior involvement with the Passaic County
Prosecutor's Office and knew none of the people directly involved
in Carter's 1967 murder conviction. I had met Burrell Ives Humphreys
on two or three occasions in the 1960s, before he became Passaic
County Prosecutor, but that was it. (Humphreys was the County
Prosecutor at the time of Carter's second murder trial, but not
at the time of the first.)
My first interview in the case was with Carter himself at
Trenton State Prison, where reporter Jim Lanaras and I traveled
on Aug. 28, 1975. I was there as the photographer, but read up
on the case before we went.
Carter was friendly, talkative and persuasive, but he refused
our offer of a lie detector test. We used that offer as a crude
litmus test to guide us in our assessment of the man and his
case. His refusal created the first big spark of doubt in our
minds about his innocence. It was troubling, but far, far from
With that in mind, and armed with the transcript of Carter's
words, we began checking the facts. We were surprised to discover
that Carter's statements were often false and misleading. The
deeper we dug and the more we applied common sense, the more
I began to believe that Carter was guilty.
Finally I conceived and directed a major four-part series
on the murders for the newspaper. Much of that series pointed
to Carter's guilt.
Later reporter Bob Miller of WABC-TV in New York invited me
along on a Carter interview. In front of the camera, Carter tried
to discredit me by calling me a snake, a liar, a criminal and
a racist. Meanwhile, I caught him making a significant false
statement about the testimony of a prosecution witness -- and
used his own book to prove it. (That
portion of the interview is on this site.)
Now the Hollywood Justice System is weighing in. I haven't
seen the movie as of this writing, but I imagine it will tell
us of the terrible misdeeds of prosecutors, and of the lies of
witnesses, and of racist cops, and of conspiracies on top of
conspiracies. It may be dramatic, it may be riveting, but I can't
imagine that justice will be served.
During the course of my work on the case, I came to know the
key witnesses, including Pat Valentine, who saw the killers'
car pull away, and Al Bello, who practically bumped into the
killers seconds after the shootings. I also got to know some
of the family and friends of the murder victims. Although many
people try to paint this as a black-white thing, I was struck
by the fact that the people hurt the most by the murders actually
felt sorry for John Artis, the young black man who was convicted
with Carter. They felt he had been swept into the tragedy by
Carter's powerful influence, and the thought of Artis being released
from prison didn't bother them at all.
Carter was another matter.
So it is for Pat, and Betty, and Murph and Barbara -- and
for all the others who suffered a terrible loss on that bloody
night -- that I have put these pages together.
Dec. 21, 1999