Carter v. Rafferty, Civ. A. No. 85-745. No. 85-1007.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
Citation621 F. Supp. 533
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 85-745. No. 85-1007.
PartiesRubin CARTER, Petitioner, v. John J. RAFFERTY, Superintendent, Rahway State Prison, and Irwin I. Kimmelman, The Attorney General of the State of New Jersey, Respondents. John ARTIS, Petitioner, v. Christopher DEITZ, Chairman, Parole Board of the State of New Jersey and Irwin I. Kimmelman, the Attorney General of the State of New Jersey, Respondents.
Decision Date13 November 1985

Leon Friedman, Hofstra University Law School, Hempstead, Grover G. Hankins, Charles E. Carter, N.A.A.C.P., Brooklyn, N.Y., Harold J. Cassidy, Cassidy Despo & Foss, Red Bank, N.J., for petitioners Carter and Artis.

Myron Beldock, Edward S. Graves, Beldock Levine & Hoffman, New York City, Ronald J. Busch, Busch, Busch & Busch, New Brunswick, N.J., for petitioner Carter.

Lewis M. Steel, Steel & Bellman, P.C., New York City, Louis Raveson, Rutgers School of Law, Newark, N.J., for petitioner Artis.

John P. Goceljak, First Asst. Pros., Joseph A. Falcone, Passaic County Prosecutor, Paterson, N.J., for respondent.


SAROKIN, District Judge.


The court is called upon in this matter to issue the "Great Writ," long recognized as "the best and only sufficient defense of personal freedom."1 The petitioners, convicted of a triple murder that took place nearly 20 years ago, continue to protest their innocence and allege that serious violations of their constitutional rights occurred at trial. The court's responsibility to examine these allegations is in no way diminished by the existence of extensive review by the learned state courts which have ruled in this case. Indeed, it is tempting to presume the correctness of those rulings, but this court is charged to resist such temptation lest it fail in its duty to independently analyze the constitutional violations asserted in the petitions for habeas corpus relief. In so doing, the court has determined that the writ must issue. The extensive record clearly demonstrates that petitioner's convictions were predicated upon an appeal to racism rather than reason, and concealment rather than disclosure.

The jury was permitted to draw inferences of guilt based solely upon the race of the petitioners, but yet was denied information which may have supported their claims of innocence. To permit convictions to stand which have as their foundation appeals to racial prejudice and the withholding of evidence critical to the defense, is to commit a violation of the Constitution as heinous as the crimes for which these petitioners were tried and convicted.

Were it not for these grave constitutional violations, the court concludes, for the reasons hereafter set forth, the guilty verdicts of the jury might well have been otherwise.


At approximately 2:30 a.m. on June 17, 1966, two armed black men entered the Lafayette Bar & Grill in Paterson, New Jersey and opened fire. The bartender, James Oliver and a patron, Fred Nauyaks, were killed immediately. A second patron, Hazel Tanis, died one month later from her wounds and a third, William Marins, was partially blinded after being shot in the head.

Arrested four months later for the murders were Rubin Carter, a well-known professional boxer who lived in Paterson, and who was, at 30 years old, reaching the peak of his career, a contender for the middleweight crown; and 20 year-old John Artis, who was about to enter college on a scholarship.

As the case took a tortuous and often circuitous route through the New Jersey courts, the circumstances surrounding the killings and subsequent prosecution of Carter and Artis have become a mosaic. The picture of the evidence painted by petitioners and respondents is often conflicting and sometimes exceptionally murky. The accounts of many important witnesses, especially that of Alfred Bello, the only "eyewitness" to testify at the 1976 trial, have changed; some witnesses have died; the memories of those who survive have grown hazy. But from thousands of pages of testimony spanning two trials and numerous hearings, the parties have reconstructed two drastically different versions of the events that tragic night. The conflicting evidence is reviewed below (See The Brady violation) but a brief summary of the evidence introduced at the second trial is presented here.

Patricia Valentine lived above the tavern and was awakened by gunshots about 2:30 a.m. She first ran to her window and saw two men leave the scene in a white car, then ran downstairs to the bar. Alfred Bello and Arthur Bradley were in the process of breaking into a nearby factory. Bello, who was standing lookout, was either in or outside of the bar (a main point of contention). Within minutes, police arrived at the scene and took statements from Bello, Marins and Valentine. A description of the car was sent out on police radio. A few minutes later, a Paterson police officer who just given up a brief chase of two cars, one white and one black, speeding out of town, started driving back into Paterson. He stopped a white car leased by Carter about 14 blocks away from the Lafayette Bar. Artis was driving, John Royster was sitting in the front seat, and Carter was alone in the back seat. The car was not speeding and there were no weapons in sight. Carter told the officer that the men were driving to his home, about six blocks away, to obtain money, and the car was allowed to go. Fifteen minutes later, Carter's car was observed outside the La Petite Bar about 10 blocks west of the Lafayette. About five minutes later, the car was sighted for a third time, with only Carter and Artis in the vehicle. This time the police escorted the car and its occupants to the crime scene.

From the evidence, it appears neither Bello nor Valentine identified the petitioners at the scene, and there is considerable dispute as to the identification of the car at the scene and again later that evening at the police station. The petitioners were taken to the station and to the hospital where the two survivors did not identify them. The petitioners were questioned, given polygraph examinations and released about 7 p.m. on June 17.

Meanwhile, police searched the car in which they later alleged that they found a live .12 gauge shotgun shell in the trunk and a live .32 caliber shell on the floor of the front seat. There was considerable dispute about this evidence.

The petitioners voluntarily testified before a Passaic County Grand Jury which did not return any indictments. In July and October, Bello told a Paterson police officer that he had seen Carter and Artis at the crime scene. Bello and Bradley identified Carter as one of the two black men they saw coming from the Lafayette Bar with weapons in their hands. Bello, but not Bradley, identified Artis as the second man. On the basis of these identifications, the petitioners were indicted and ultimately convicted of murder in June of 1967.

In late 1973, Fred Hogan, a state Public Defender's Office investigator assigned to Carter's case began contacting Bello and Bradley about the case. Hogan had communicated with Richard Solomon, a documentary film-maker, Selwyn Raab, who then worked for a New York television station, and Hal Levinson, who worked for Raab at the station. Raab and Levinson eventually talked with Bello about recanting his testimony. After Bradley gave Hogan a statement recanting his identification of Carter, Hogan continued to talk with Bello, who in a written statement from jail in September 1974 first recanted his 1966 testimony (37T125)2. The recantation resulted in a hearing and began a series of events that ultimately set the stage for the second trial in 1976.

At the retrial, there was considerable testimony concerning alleged inducements made to Bello by both the prosecution and the defense camp in order to change his story. (See: The Brady Violation, infra) There was also evidence presented, and disputed by the defense, that Carter attempted to create a false alibi for the 1967 trial. (See: The Brady Violation, infra) The petitioners were both found guilty of first degree murder. Carter was sentenced to two consecutive and one concurrent life sentences and remains in prison. Artis, who received a lesser sentence, was released on parole for a ten year term beginning December 22, 1981.


The petitioners were originally tried and convicted in 1967 of three counts of first degree murder. Life sentences were imposed after a jury recommendation of mercy on June 29, 1967. The convictions were affirmed on direct appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court. State v. Carter, 54 N.J. 436, 255 A.2d 746 (1969) ("Carter I"), cert. denied, 397 U.S. 948, 90 S.Ct. 969, 25 L.Ed.2d 130 (1970).

On October 1, 1974, the petitioners filed a new trial motion based on the statements of the state's two key witnesses recanting their 1967 identification testimony. The original trial judge denied the motion. State v. Carter, 136 N.J.Super. 271, 345 A.2d 808 (Cty.Ct.1974). A second new trial motion was made on January 30, 1975 and that motion was also denied. State v. Carter, 136 N.J.Super. 596, 347 A.2d 383 (Cty. Ct.1975). That decision was appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court, which, on March 17, 1976 overturned the convictions and ordered a new trial. State v. Carter, 69 N.J. 420, 354 A.2d 627 (1976) ("Carter II"). The Supreme Court ruled that the prosecution had withheld from the defense exculpatory evidence which demonstrated that prosecutors had offered the key identification witnesses protection and help with criminal charges pending and/or threatened against them.

The case was remanded to the trial court, where there were numerous motions and hearings. The retrial began on October 12, 1976 and concluded on December 22, 1976 when the jury returned first degree murder verdicts. The judgments were appealed to the Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court and the state...

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  • State v. Dixon
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • July 25, 1991
    ...... See Carter v. Rafferty, 621 F.Supp. 533 (D.N.J.1985) (introduction . ......
  • Watkins v. Miller, IP97-0485-C-H/G.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of Indiana)
    • April 24, 2000
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  • People v. King
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    • New York Court of Appeals
    • March 29, 2016
    ...too late in the day to treat lightly the risk that racial bias may influence a jury's verdict in a criminal case”]; Carter v. Rafferty, 621 F.Supp. 533, 546 [D.N.J.1985] [“The prosecutor, ... without basis in the record, imputed the ‘powerful motive of revenge’ on the entire black community......
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    • New York Court of Appeals
    • March 29, 2016
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    • United States
    • Fordham Urban Law Journal Vol. 38 No. 5, October 2011
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