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Rubin "Hurricane" Carter and the American Justice System

3.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0813528649
ISBN-10: 081352864X
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Editorial Reviews


"...a well-crafted and balanced account of the racially charged murder prosecution of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter and John Artis..." -- Trial

From the Publisher

Interview with Paul Wice, author of Robin "Hurricane" Carter and the American Justice System

Q:Why did you decide to write this book? What was it about the Carter case that inspired your research?

A:I knew a little bit about the case and when a friend suggested I look into it because a Drew University alum who I had once met was the judge in the second trial and would provide me with some useful material in understanding the case, I agreed to review it. As I learned more about the case my enthusiasm and curiosity increased. The timing was good because I had just finished a book and was looking for a new project. The facts of the case read like a made-for-television true crime thriller with many unexpected twists and fascinating characters.

Q:Many books have been written about this case. What makes yours unique?

A:Actually there have been only three books written about Carter and the case. In 1974, Carter wrote an autobiography (The Sixteenth Round). His story concluded well before his second trial commenced. A second book, Lazarus and the Hurricane, was written by two Canadians who befriended Carter in 1981 and assisted him in his successful federal appeal. This book formed the basis for the screenplay in the recent movie, The Hurricane, starring Denzel Washington. It makes no apology for its strongly pro-Carter bias. As the movie was released in December of 1999, a new authorized biography written by journalist James Hirsch was published. The emphasis in all three books is on Carter rather than on his complex legal struggle. I believe my book differs from these prior works in its emphasis on the legal rather than the personal aspects of the case, its effort to remain objective, and in its comprehensive approach to the case tracing it from the crime scene through both trials and all subsequent appeals at both the state and federal level.

Q:Who are some of the people you interviewed for this book?

A:I interviewed a small group of judges, defense attorneys, and prosecutors as well as a few journalists and public officials. Most wished to remain anonymous. Most of the people I contacted refused to speak, stating that too much time had passed or that the public record and newspapers told the entire story and they had nothing to add.

Q:You write that some of the people who consented to interviews were cautiously guarded in their comments, even though much of what they refused to discuss could easily be found in court documents or newspaper accounts. Why do you think people were so reticent?

A:Even though it has been over 20 years since the case was resolved, and 35 since the shootings occurred, the passions and hard feelings raised by this case are still evident. Especially with the movie's release, participants in the case were on their guard. Most understood that Carter would be viewed sympathetically while the Passaic County criminal justice establishment was likely to be characterized negatively. Interviewees were therefore nervous about making public statements that could possibly come back to haunt them. Many simply chose not to be interviewed or answered my questions in a cursory manner. Those that spoke in greater detail did so with the understanding that their comments would remain anonymous. A final reason for their reticence may have been the result of the long passage of time since the case was concluded as well as the numerous still unresolved questions.

Q:You interviewed many people involved with the case, but not Carter himself. Why?

A:I tried to reach Carter and obtain an interview, but was unsuccessful. He currently lives in Canada with an unlisted phone number. I do not believe his absence significantly affects the book since I was able to locate additional sources. His autobiography was helpful on his early life.

Q:If Carter and Artis were to be tried by a jury today, rather than in the 1960s and 1970s, do you think the verdict would be different? Why or why not?

A:This is a very difficult question but I think the defendants would still have a difficult time, especially if the jury was dominated by white jurors as in the first two trials. The demographics of the city of Paterson have changed significantly with a large Hispanic and Middle Eastern community, but overall the county is not too different. What impact the passage of 20 years would have upon a new group of jurors is impossible to estimate with any degree of confidence.

Q:Throughout the book, you point out the many examples of contradictory testimony and evidence that you feel should have made it difficult for a jury to find Carter and Artis guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Yet two juries concluded, with less than six hours of deliberation at each of the trials, that the defendants had committed the crimes. Why do you think they reached these decisions?

A:For two reasons. First, they felt the pressure of the white community (their neighbors) and the Paterson power structure (police and politicians) which demanded a conviction. They feared what would happen if an aggressive, outspoken black man like Carter was acquitted and sent back into the community. This was especially true after the first trial in 1967 when racial tensions were at their zenith. Second, the white jurors assumed that if the prosecutor believed enough in Bello and Bradley to put them on the stand, then they must be telling the truth. The only way for Carter to be acquitted was for the jurors to dismiss the judgment of the Paterson police and county prosecutor and they could not be expected to do that.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press (September 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081352864X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813528649
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.9 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,794,699 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book is the most in-depth examination at the Carter case. Dr. Wice had unprecedented access to original court transcripts and interviewed everyone involved in the courtroom proceedings, including prosecutors, criminal defense attorneys and judges.

A case as divisive as this naturally produces two distinct, mutually-exclusive groups. One side believes that Carter was an entirely innocent man and framed by a racist regime; the other believes that Carter was an unrepentant thug and murderer who was only released because celebrities got involved.

The facts, however, lie somewhere in the middle. Dr. Wice goes the extra distance to carve away the hyperbole and assumptions and examine the court case itself. Readers and reviewers who have already made up their mind about the case will be disappointed that it does not merely feed their expectations. Both sides have displayed a lack of empathy and intellectual honesty over the last thirty years.

The book's larger purpose is to explore the fundamental problems of our adversarial justice system. Because the prosecution and defense are trying to win the case, rather than arrive at the truth, there is a great potential for justice to be sacrificed.

At the book's conclusion, Dr. Wice states that it is impossible to state with complete certainty whether Carter committed these murders. Again, our judicial system is not based on uncovering objective truth, but only in determining whether a person is guilty or not guilty according to the rules of the game. It is Dr. Wice's conclusion that, not only were the rules of the game violated by both sides, but that the game itself is the problem.
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Format: Hardcover
Well, what a disappointment. 95% of this book is a re-telling of the Lafayette Bar murder case. 5% is a surprisingly superficial discussion of the shortcomings of the American judicial system. On the plus side, this is the most detailed, blow-by-blow account of both of the trials and the numerous appeals, the changes in testimony, the key witnesses, the red herrings, and the legal issues raised. But the writing is not good enough to rise above tedium.
To be fair, it would be a challenge to explain the changing testimony, the way the lies and the charges of bribery and corruption keep revolving back on themselves, like a hall of mirrors. Were the police intimidating the defense witnesses, or were Hurricane Carter and his friends intimidating the prosecution witnesses? Was Al Bello's crucial testimony bought by the police with promises of reward money, or was his recantation bought by Carter's friends with promises of a secret bribe?
I'd like to explain what troubles me about this book -- but how to do it without getting bogged down with nit-picks?
Try this quote on for size: "But within the Paterson community, the police, prosecutors and judicial system were united in their commitment to keeping Carter in prison for the rest of his life. To them, he was an abrasive, violent person who might one day catalyze the rage of the city's black community and who thus needed to be silenced -- he was to them an embarrassment and a villain rather than a hero." (204) Wice writes this, and apparently believes it, while at the same time acknowledging that prosecutors believed they had the guilty men (204) and while admitting he doesn't know whether Carter committed the murders or not!
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