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Hurricane had stormy journey

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
More Info on Hurricane Carter
By Ron Flatter
Special to

Signature Bout
Dec. 20, 1963 - Although Carter, 26, was becoming a popular fixture in TV fights out of Madison Square Garden, the most impressive victory of his professional career came in a non-televised bout at Pittsburgh Civic Arena. Carter had won 17 of his first 21 professional fights, including 11 by knockout, when he fought Emile Griffith, the 24-year-old welterweight champion who already had been selected the Fighter of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association.

Carter was a 12-5 underdog in this non-title middleweight fight. At 151 pounds, Griffith was only 3 pounds lighter than Carter, and experts figured his experience would enable him to outbox Carter easily over the course of the scheduled 10 rounds. If only the pace of the fight had been that slow.

After warming up for 20 minutes in the dressing room, Carter came out roaring. Two left hooks to the body hurt Griffith a minute into the fight. Then came a combination to the head, and Griffith went down. Although he got back up before the 10 count, he was woozy, and Carter fired away with a flurry of lefts and rights to the head and body. Griffith fell into the rope and onto the canvas as referee Buck McTiernan counted him out only 2:13 into the fight.

Odds 'n' ends

  • Until he was 18, Carter had a stuttering problem.

  • The 1999 movie "The Hurricane" claimed Carter's loss to middleweight champ Joey Giardello in 1964 in Philadelphia was based on racially biased judges incorrectly scoring a fight that Carter dominated. Giardello publicly complained about the depiction, and filed a federal lawsuit in Pennsylvania against the producers of the movie.

  • In real life, referee Bob Polis scored the fight 72-66, judge Jim Mina 69-64 and judge Dave Beloff 69-64, all in favor of Giardello.

  • Even before the triple murder convictions in 1967, Carter, with his prison background, was sometimes referred to as a middleweight version of Sonny Liston, the heavyweight champ who had his own brushes with the law. "I like those comparisons," Carter said in 1963. "I'm glad they rate me as high as that."

  • When Muhammad Ali became a visible convert to Islam, he could not count Carter among his backers in 1964. "Cassius or whatever he calls himself has the God-given right to believe in the religion or philosophy of his choice," Carter said. "I don't argue that, but when he attempts to portray himself as a spokesman for the Negro race and for the many Negro boxers and other athletes, he couldn't be more wrong."

  • Later on, Carter changed his opinion about Ali, who became a staunch supporter in Carter's fight for freedom. Ali led a march of several thousand people in Trenton, N.J., just a few weeks after the Thrilla in Manila in 1975.

  • While Carter was serving time at Rahway State Prison on the murder charges, he wore No. 45472.

  • A botched operation in prison cost Carter the use of his right eye.

  • Carter's incarceration led to the formation of a short-lived, nonprofit organization in the 1970s. "Freedom for All - Everywhere" was founded to help free wrongfully accused prisoners.

  • In 1974, Carter's autobiobiography, "The Sixteenth Round," was published, seven years after he entered prison for the murders. The book serves as a treatise of his defense. In it, Carter described his imprisonment as "the lowest level of human existence that anyone can live in."

  • After reading the book, Lesra Martin, a Brooklyn teenager living in a Canadian commune, befriended Carter. Martin and his Canadian friends in the commune helped Carter in his fight for freedom.

  • They also decorated his prison cell by giving him Asian rugs, prints of French Impressionist paintings, plants and flowers. Sometimes, they brought him Chateaubriand.

  • In 1978, Carter divorced his wife Mae Thelma, as he couldn't bear her seeing him in prison. They were married in 1963.

  • There is not unanimity of opinion that Carter and Artis were given overdue justice when they were freed. Those who believe Carter and Artis had committed the murders claim the case against them was dismissed over procedure and evidence, not over innocence or guilt.

  • Metro police in Toronto arrested Carter by mistake in 1996 because he matched the description of an alleged drug trafficker. "I am so furious that what happened happened simply because I was wearing a jacket and I am black," Carter said after police admitted to making a mistake in identity. Carter had been handcuffed for a half-hour and was under arrest for 10 minutes before being released.

  • Denzel Washington was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Carter in "The Hurricane."

  • Carter's 23-year-old son Raheem was arrested and charged with beating up his pregnant girlfriend in 1999.

  • Artis, the co-defendant in the New Jersey murders, works with troubled youngsters in Virginia. "Being in prison," he said, "is like being dead, and I want these kids to know that."

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