NEWARK, N.J. -- Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter's longest fight - his 19-year battle for freedom -- could end in victory today if prosecutors follow the recommendation of a judge who overturned the former boxer's murder conviction.
Carter, 48, whose plight became the subject of a Bob Dylan song, faces a bond hearing today at which state prosecutors are expected to announce whether they will appeal the ruling, seek a new trial, or drop charges as the judge urged.
U.S. District Judge H. Lee Sarokin ordered state corrections officials to hand Carter over to U.S. marshals for transport from Rahway State Prison to court for today's hearing. He could be released from custody directly from court or within hours after bond is set, prison officials said. Sarokin Thursday ruled Carter, who is serving consecutive life sentences and has been imprisoned for all but six months since his 1966 arrest, was a victim of racial prejudice in his 1967 trial and a 1976 retrial for a triple murder in a Paterson tavern.
Prosecutors had charged the two white men and a white woman were killed in revenge for the murder of a black bartender by a white man. Carter is black, and Sarokin said the prosecutors' case appealed 'to racism rather than reason.'
Sarokin set aside the convictions of Carter and codefendant John Artis, saying they might have been acquitted had prosecutors not used a prejudicial approach.
Artis, who was paroled in 1981, said today he spoke with Carter at Rahway after the ruling and his reaction was 'jubilation, just pure jubilation.' He said he hopes to be on hand when Carter is released.
'He has to reacclimate himself to being free, something you forget by not having it,' Artis said on 'The CBS Morning News.'
'I read the opinion about 20 times but after I heard them (the judge's words) and then read them I really was stunned,' Artis said of the ruling. 'The force of them is such that it removes all doubt. We now have to get down to dealing with law -- not with emotions, not with feelings, not with people but with law.'
The judge said in a written opinion he hoped 'that constitutional considerations, as well as justice and compassion, will prevail' and that prosecutors will not bring Carter to trial again.
One of Carter's lawyers, Edward Graves, talked to the former middleweight title contender at Rahway after the ruling.
'He is elated, of course,' Graves said. 'He wants out of there now. He has never given up.'
Carter's case drew national attention in 1975 when Dylan released a song called 'Hurricane' that claimed the former boxer was framed.
Dylan was not available for comment on Thursday's ruling, said Elaine Schock, his publicist at CBS Records in New York.
Sarokin ruled there was no direct evidence that Carter and Artis had a racial motive in the early-morning slayings of three white patrons at the Lafayette Bar and Grill on June 17, 1966.
'The jury was permitted to draw inferences of guilt based soley on the race of Carter and Artis,' Sarokin said. He said the defense was denied access to lie-detector tests of witnesses that supported both men's claims of innocence.
'To permit convictions to stand which have as their foundation appeals to racial prejudice and the witholding of evidence critical to the defense is to commit a violation of the Constitution as heinous as the crimes for which Carter and Artis were tried and convicted,' Sarokin said.