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2:30 A.M., June 17, 1966. It was almost time to call it day at the Lafayette Grill in Paterson, New Jersey. James Oliver, the bartender, was standing by the cash register counting the day's proceeds. Fred Bob Nauyoks was seated at the center of the bar, close to where Oliver was standing. Two stools to the left of Nauyoks sat William Marins, a patron of the Lafayette Grill. At the far end of the bar, Hazel Tanis lingered over her drink. She was a friend of Oliver and had stopped by for a little chitchat after an evening's work as a waitress.
The front door opened and in walked two African-American men. The shorter of the two was carrying a double-barreled shotgun. The other carried a .32 caliber revolver. The bartender looked toward the front door and dropped the money he was counting in terror. Fear stricken and panicking, he hurled an empty bottle at the men. It smashed against the air conditioner to the right of the door. Oliver turned to run from the gunmen. A shotgun blast caught him in the lower back. He fell to the floor behind the bar. He was dead.
At the same instant, the second gunman shot Nauyoks in the back of the head, quickly turned to his left and shot Marins just above the eye. Nauyoks' head slumped forward onto the bar. He looked as though he had fallen asleep. A lit cigarette remained between his fingers. His foot remained on his stool's foot rest. He, too, was dead.
Marins was dazed. With one eye blinded and his skull fractured, he stumbled around the bar. The gunmen left him for dead and turned toward the door. When they first arrived, the door had blocked their view of Hazel Tanis. Now they saw the helpless woman who was pinned in a corner. She screamed as the two men fired one shotgun blast and four .32 caliber rounds at her. Fatally wounded, she fell to the floor near the doorway.
The gunmen walked out onto the street, where their car was parked. They were laughing and talking loudly. Directly in front of them was Alfred Bello, a man with a lengthy criminal record. He was on the look out as his partner attempted to break into a sheet metal plant across the street. Bello, who had heard the gunshots, thought the two armed men were police officers and continued walking toward them.
He was within 15 feet of the men when all of a sudden he realized what he had stumbled upon. He turned and ran from the gunmen, whose weapons were empty, and hid in an alley about 200 feet away. The gunmen pulled away in a white car. When they had gone, Bello returned to the Lafayette Grill and the shocking scene inside. He walked to the cash register and pocketed about $62, after which he called the police. (The preceding description was based on a police reconstruction of the crime. It has been adapted from the article ‘How it all went down’)
2:40 A.M., June 17, 1966. The Passaic County Police Force arrived at the crime scene and started questioning the witnesses. Alfred Bello, who had accidently confronted the gunmen, told police officers that both the assassins were of African-American origin and that they hit the road in a white car which had out-of-state license plates. The only other witness was Pat Valentine. She lived directly above the Lafayette Grill. Peeking through her bedroom window, she witnessed the gunmen escaping. Valentine’s description was consistent with Bello’s account. She was dead sure that the gunmen were of African-American origin and that they took off in a white car with out-of-state license plates. She further informed officers that the tail lights of the get away vehicle resembled a butterfly. The witnesses’ accounts gave the Passaic County Police Force a sense of direction and formed the basis of a criminal investigation. The search for the ‘Lafayette Killers’ began.  
3:00 A.M., June 17, 1966. Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and John Artis were taken into custody by officers of the Passaic County Police Force, in the vicinity of the Lafayette Grill. The police suspected that Carter and Artis were the two gunmen who went on a killing spree at the Lafayette Grill earlier that night. This suspicion was on solid grounds and not some wild hunch. Both the suspects were of African-American origin and were travelling in a white colored 1966 Dodge Polaro, which belonged to Carter. Apart from being white in color, the car also had out-of-state license plates and its tail lights resembled a butterfly, a feature unique to the 1966 Dodge Polaro.
3:05 A.M., June 17 1966. Passaic County Police Officers brought Rubin Carter and John Artis, both in handcuffs, to the scene of the crime, the Lafayette Grill. The two men, prime suspects of the investigation in the eyes of the authorities, were approached by Alfred Bello and Pat Valentine. Both witnesses positively identified Carter and Artis as the gunmen and the evidence against the ‘prime’ suspects continued to pile on. 
In the summer of 1967, Rubin Carter and John Artis were found guilty by a Passaic County Court jury for the murders of Jim Oliver, Bob Nauyoks and Hazel Tanis (she succumbed to her injuries on July 14, 1966). William Marins survived the shooting but later passed away in 1973. Carter and Artis were sentenced to life in prison. The convictions came as the mountain of evidence against the two men reached insurmountable heights.
December of 1976 saw Rubin Carter and John Artis appeal the guilty verdict that they were handed over nine years earlier. The appeal proved fruitless. The second jury found no compelling reasoning to overturn the original verdict. Both men were reconvicted and imprisoned once more. Disillusioned and with little optimism of being set free, John Artis found it agonizing to swallow the fact that he would die behind bars. Rubin Carter, however, continued his struggle to attain his freedom. After rejecting numerous appeals against Carter’s life imprisonment sentence, the Federal Court finally accepted an application for appeal by Carter’s attorneys.
Judge Haddon Lee Sarokin of the United States District Court heard the appeal in 1985. Rubin Carter’s determination and strong resolve finally paid off as Judge Sarokin set aside the conviction. He ruled that Carter had not received a fair trial, stating that the prosecution had been "based on racism rather than reason" (The Sarokin Decision) and "concealment rather than disclosure" (The Sarokin Decision). Judge Sarokin’s decision meant that after spending eighteen years in prison and being convicted twice for triple murders, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was a free man once more.
Only a couple of years before the ‘Lafayette Murders’, Rubin Carter was ranked the number one contender for the World Boxing Middleweight Title. His destructive style and heavy muscle punching earned him the nickname “Hurricane”. The two years from 1964-66 saw Carter lose competency as a boxer and his ranking fell. But his celebrity status remained well intact.
When Rubin Carter was first indicted and put behind bars, the sentiments of the general public laid in his favor and several celebrities at the time lobbied and campaigned for his release. Muhammad Ali and Bob Dylan were the first to endorse Carter’s innocence and unfair trial. Dylan even co-wrote, sang and officially released a song depicting Rubin Carter’s innocence. The latest feature of publicity stunts by celebrities to proclaim Carter’s innocence was the movie ‘The Hurricane’, directed by Norman Jewison. But was Rubin Carter truly innocent and had he really been unfairly tried?
Ever since his release in November, 1985, the “Hurricane” has repeatedly claimed his innocence. He alleged that he was “framed by racist, corrupt police and prosecutors” (Top Ten Myths About Rubin Hurricane Carter and the Lafayette Grill Murders). Carter argued that the case against him was “thick with racism and thin on evidence” (Top Ten Myths About Rubin Hurricane Carter and the Lafayette Grill Murders). He highlighted the fact the he was first convicted by an all-white jury and the jury in his second trial consisted of only two men of African-American origin. Carter also pointed out how he was charged and found guilty of the triple murder on the testimony of Alfred Bello, who himself was a known thief and liar, with an extensive criminal record. According to Carter, William Marins, the only survivor of the Lafayette shootings, shook his head when police officers asked him whether Rubin Carter was one of the gunmen. Carter alleged that he was only stopped by the police on the night of the murders because he was “DWB – Driving While Black” (Top Ten Myths About Rubin Hurricane Carter and the Lafayette Grill Murders). Carter also said that he was “harassed by the police because of a Saturday Evening Post article in which he joked about shooting cops” (Top Ten Myths About Rubin Hurricane Carter and the Lafayette Grill Murders) and that several acquaintances had warned him that the police were out to get him. He also believed that the whole conspiracy was formulated and executed because of him being a Black Activist, something the authorities could not bear with and thus they wished to silence Carter.
Some of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter’s allegations and conspiracy theories might seem absurd and difficult to believe. For instance, there was not a single piece of evidence to even suggest that Carter was a Black Activist. Also, Williams Marins was not sure whether Carter was one of the gunmen or not. He never suggested that Carter was ‘not one of the two murderers’. The biasness of the juries, as suggested by Carter, was far from the truth. Carter’s attorneys used all their challenges during jury selection and jury members were only selected after passing a test specifically designed to check for any racially prejudiced behavior.
However it seems that some of his proclamations of innocence might have had some truth in them. After all, Rubin Carter’s conviction was set aside by Judge Sarokin, and the reasons that he cited for his decision were not far off from some of Carter’s claims.
Nonetheless, one should not forget that Rubin Carter was twice convicted for the murders at the Lafayette Grill, first in 1967 and then in 1976. The evidence against him was thought to be sufficient by two different juries. So was Rubin Carter one of the two gunmen who ruthlessly carried out a triple homicide at the Lafayette Grill in 1966?
Considering the evidence against him, it seems so. He and his car perfectly fit the descriptions given by two crime scene witnesses of the gunmen and their vehicle. When Carter was taken into custody, police found a live shotgun shell and a live .32 caliber bullet rolling around inside his car. Both live rounds exactly fit the murder weapons. Also, Carter called upon four witnesses to testify in court in order to prove that he was not at the Lafayette Grill when the shooting took place. All four of these witnesses later admitted that Carter had forced them to commit perjury as their testimonies were all lies. On top of this, Carter and Artis both gave conflicting stories as to there whereabouts at 2:30 A.M on 17th June, 1966, when the murders were committed. Carter changed his alibi twice during the course of the first two trials. To add to this, both Carter and Artis failed lie detector tests conducted by the police.    
Then there was also the racial revenge theory which the prosecution raised. Six hours prior to the Lafayette shootings, a prominent member of the Paterson African-American community was murdered. Racial tensions were at a high in Paterson, New Jersey at the time. The victim happened to be the step father of Eddie Brawls, a close friend of Rubin Carter. Both of them were seen together on the night of the shootings. The prosecutors felt that racial revenge could have been a possible motive for the killings, as the Lafayette Grill was known for not serving colored people. This seems a very plausible theory considering the fact that when the police stopped Rubin Carter’s car on the night of the murder, he was on the street on which Eddie Rawls lived. The prosecution believed that Carter dumped the weapons at his friends’ apartment. Also, Carter claimed to be heading home, while he was heading in the opposite direction before being taken into custody.
Rubin Carter had spent almost half his life in prison even before the Lafayette murders in 1966. Carter had a criminal record which began when he was only nine years old, and his offenses varied from petty crimes such as stealing and loitering to sinister offenses such as assault with a knife and attempted murder. A notorious statement made by Carter during an interview in 1964 truly reflected his character. “I don’t enjoy hitting or hurting people, not unless they mess with me. Then I enjoy it. I’ve never been one that could take anything from other people. If you mess with me I’m going to try to kill you. When I get angry I don’t fight by any rules and I don’t shake hands when it’s over” (The Saturday Evening Post Article).
Whether or not Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was one of the two gunmen in the Lafayette shooting was an issue of great controversy, dispute and debate. Infact, it still continues to be so today. Carter himself always maintained his innocence. Those who supported Carter felt he was the scapegoat in a conspiracy of tremendous proportions. Skeptics, however, always persisted that Carter was definitely guilty of the Lafeyette murders, given the heap of evidence against him and his shaky defense. Was the “Hurricane” an innocent man who the authorities tried to frame or was he guilty of brutally murdering three white people, his motive being racial vendetta? Given the strength of evidence against Carter, the latter proposition seems more legitimate than the former.  

Written By: Irteza Jafri 

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