Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the boxer most famous for spending 19 years behind bars after he was twice wrongfully convicted for a 1966 triple murder, died on Sunday in Toronto at 76 after battling prostate cancer. John Artis, a longtime friend who was wrongfully convicted for the same 1966 crime, said Carter died in his sleep, reports the Associated Press. Artis had been caring for Carter for the past three years after his cancer worsened, according to the Globe and Mail. Carter and Artis, a hitch-hiker he had picked up on the night of the murders, were convicted of killing two men and a woman at the Lafayette Grill in Paterson, New Jersey.
Carter’s arrest came a few years after he began his pro boxing career in 1961 and quickly began racking up a series of wins. “Carter's rapid-fire combinations and punching power earned him the nickname ‘Hurricane’ and, by 1963, The Ring Magazine had rated him number 10 in world rankings,” notes the CBC. The high point came in 1964, when Carter came close to beating middleweight champion Joey Giardello, but his career was already in decline when he was arrested in 1966.
The possibility that Carter may have been wrongfully convicted began to get attention nationally in 1974, when two witnesses recanted, which led to stories by the New York Times. But his story gained worldwide notoriety after Bob Dylan wrote the song "Hurricane" in 1975. All the new information led the New Jersey Supreme Court to overturn the convictions in 1976, cementing Carter’s position as a champion of civil rights, notes the New York Times. But after being free for nine months, Carter and Artis were sent back to prison “and deserted by most of the show business and civil rights figures who had flocked to their cause.” He was finally released for good in 1985, in large part due to the work of a group of Canadian activists.
After his release, Carter became an advocate for the wrongfully convicted, gaining a new generation of admirers following the much-criticized 1999 film that starred Denzel Washington as Carter. In February, Carter sent a letter to the New York Daily News calling for a new hearing for David McCallum of Brooklyn, who has been behind bars since 1985. "I am now quite literally on my deathbed and am making my final wish to those with the legal authority to act," he wrote.