HAMPTON, Va. (AP) – John Artis, who was wrongfully convicted along with boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter in a triple murder case made famous in a 1975 song by Bob Dylan and a 1999 film with Denzel Washington, has died. He was 75.
Artis died Nov. 7 of a gastric aneurysm at his home in Hampton, Virginia, said Fred Hogan, his longtime friend who worked to help overturn the verdicts of Artis and Carter.
Artis and Carter were convicted of a 1966 homicide at a bar in Paterson, New Jersey. The three victims were white; Witnesses said the two men who killed them were black. Artis and Carter were each sentenced to three life sentences after being convicted by an all-white jury based primarily on the testimony of two thieves, who later withdrew.
Dylan became aware of Carter’s situation after reading the boxer’s autobiography. He met Carter and co-wrote the song “Hurricane”, which he performed on his Rolling Thunder Revue tour in 1975. After years of appeals and advocacy, including by the great boxer Muhammad Ali and other celebrities, the men were released.
Artis was released on parole in 1981. In 1985, U.S. District Judge H. Lee Sarokin dropped the verdicts, writing that the prosecution was “based on an appeal to racism rather than reason and concealment rather than disclosure.”
Hogan said Artis was the “forgotten man” in the case, which drew widespread attention to Carter, but little to Artis. He said Carter often called Artis his “hero” because Artis rejected an offer of a reduced prison sentence if he wanted to involve Carter in the killings. Artis and Carter remained close friends until Carter died in 2014, Hogan said.
“John was promised a lot of things that would have helped him avoid prison himself if he wanted to say that Rubin was involved in the crime. John said, ‘I’m not lying. We did not, we were not there, and I do not want to get involved in any of that, ‘said Hogan.
Hogan said Artis moved back to Virginia, where he was born and spent part of his childhood in the late 1980s. The New York Times reports that Artis advised inmates at the Norfolk Juvenile Detention Center.
Artis also volunteered and worked on cases of illegal conviction in both the United States and Canada, Hogan said.
‘He had a relatively healthy attitude towards what most people wanted. He just wanted to put it (jail time) behind him, ”Hogan said.
“He always had a smile, and his famous saying was, ‘Sweet prayers.'”
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