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Hurricane Carter refuses to let a terminal illness defeat his fight for justice

Ex-boxer Rubin (Hurricane) Carter pictured in 2010.  - Sue Folinsbee photo
Ex-boxer Rubin (Hurricane) Carter pictured in 2010.
— image credit: Sue Folinsbee photo

Former middleweight boxer Rubin (Hurricane) Carter is on his deathbed, but he continues to fight for an inmate represented by his Toronto-based justice advocacy group, Innocence International.

Carter, battling terminal prostate cancer, wrote an open letter to the New York Daily News late last month asking the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office to re-examine the case of David McCallum, a man who's been imprisoned for 28 years for a murder that Carter is convinced he didn't commit.

In 1985 McCallum and Willie Stuckey, both teenagers at the time, were convicted of a killing that occurred during a car-jacking in Brooklyn.

"Not a single piece of evidence ever implicated them in this crime nor placed them anywhere near the scene. Their two confessions, gained by force and trickery, are not corroborated even by each other; they read as if two different crimes were committed," writes Carter, 76, in his op-ed letter.

Carter — also an advocate for Sebastian Burns and Atif Rafay, the former West Van men convicted in 2004 of a triple murder — notes in his letter to the Daily News: "I am now quite literally on my deathbed and am making my final wish which those in authority have the power to grant."

McCallum and Stuckey were incarcerated the same year Carter was released from prison.

Carter spent 19 years in jail after being wrongfully convicted for a triple murder in Patterson, New Jersey.

Carter's plight was later made famous in the Bob Dylan song "The Hurricane" and  turned into a movie of the same title starring Denzel Washington.

After his exoneration, Carter moved to Toronto and began working as a justice activist, first as executive director of the Association in Defense of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWC) and later through his organization Innocence International.

Since his release, Carter has received an honorary WBC championship belt and pair of honorary doctor of laws degrees.

Carter has represented McCallum since 2004; Stuckey has since died in prison.

In 2008, he took on the case of Burns and Rafay, who are each serving three-consecutive 99-year life sentences in Washington state for the murder of Rafay's mother, father and autistic sister in 1994.

Last December, Carter spoke with The Outlook about the Burns-Rafay case, which he learned of through Burns's sister Tiffany, who produced a documentary titled Mr. Big, which investigates the controversial RCMP tactic that uses undercover operators posing as criminals to extract confessions.

"She brought me up a tape that showed me that there were other people who were involved with the Mr. Big sting operation who were innocent and have been found to be innocent but have also been found guilty because of the Mr. Big sting."

"The confessions, that's the only evidence they have…." Carter said about the case against Burns and Rafay. "They have convicted other people falsely, why not here too?"

"I have two cases of false confessions, this is one of them. Atif Rafay and Sebastian Burns are false confessions. The second case is a case in New York State, David McCallum and Willie Stuckey, again two teenagers at the time, who were convicted of a crime they had nothing to do with."

Burns and Rafay were both 18 at the time of the murders. In 2008, Carter met with Rafay inside a visitation room at the Monroe Correctional Complex in Washington state and grilled him for several hours about his case.

"I meet all of our clients, while they are still in prison, on death row, parole or wherever they are  — and I look them smack dab in the face, eye to eye, and you tell me about it. You see I spent 20 years in prison with some of the most diabolical people you could ever find on the planet earth and I know who belongs in prison and I know who don't belong in prison," Carter said in a telephone interview. "...there've been people that I go to prison to see and I look at them and say 'Na you can't fool me, you did it.' And walk away from it, but Atif Rafay, I just could not believe that this young man could do that."

At the time, Rubin attempted to also meet with Burns, who is serving his sentence at a separate prison, but says he was unable to.

"I didn't meet him, I have talked to him on the phone, though."

Before taking on a client, Carter dissects the facts of the case.

"I read up on them, I go out in the field, I investigate and see for myself what's going on. I don't take anything for granted at all. Just because somebody says they're innocent, I don't believe that. I got to know that for a fact and the only way I can know that for a fact is by going out in the field and finding out that information."

In July 2012, Burns and Rafay argued for a new trial in the Washington State Court of Appeals. Their legal team raised a number of issues, most notably the controversial tactics used during the RCMP's Mr. Big operation to gather evidence, but a panel of three judges denied the appeal.

Last February, Washington state’s top court denied the pair’s petition for a review of their failed bid in appeal court. After that decision, their legal team said they planned to take the case to U.S. federal court.

Carter understands what it's like to survive in prison waiting for your day in court.

"Especially if you're innocent. I know that, I spent 20 years in prison as an innocent person….." Carter said.

"Prison is a very rough place, a very rough place, and people have to find a way to deal with that."

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