John Artis: ‘Hurricane’ Carter’s former friend fights for freedom

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption John Artis says he looks forward to finally being released

For nearly three decades, John Artis has been in jail for a crime he was never convicted of committing.

The 48-year-old prisoner, who was wrongly convicted alongside boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, now lives with his daughter in west London.

“The hardest thing is just the shock,” Mr Artis told the BBC about his life behind bars.

“This is my second time back in an interview, because it’s come back to haunt me and the last time I was in prison, I was defending myself.”

It is now set to be one of the most talked about show trials in recent years after newspapers reported the case at the weekend.

After Mr Artis was sentenced to four years in jail for being part of a fatal shooting, the case went on to inspire the 1977 courtroom drama Hurricane.


British boxing promoter Barry Hearn is supporting the ex-convict’s campaign to be freed and the case is currently being discussed at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

“As a sportsman, you have two chances of getting something out of boxing,” Mr Hearn told the BBC.

“If you get some recognition, some publicity – if that’s good enough for you, go and do it. If that doesn’t work for you, get a job and do something else.

“What we have to say is ‘try and do something’, but that means something because someone may go and get a job and do something else that better suits him.”

Mr Artis was convicted alongside former champion boxer Mr Carter, who was murdered in 1977.

The pair were sentenced to life imprisonment by a Georgia court for shooting a man in a nightclub, despite physical evidence suggesting they did not fire a single shot.

Former prosecutor to the man who sent Mr Artis to prison, Maurice Glover, recently said that the case was a result of “trolling, demonising, baiting and linking to racist media”.

Mr Artis says he is anxious to get out, but remains defiant.

“Life goes on, I look forward to getting out of there and being with my family,” he said.

“Not just my kids, my wife, my mother-in-law, my brother and all my family. All of my extended family is in London with me.”

Mr Artis, who says he served his sentence at a corrections facility for three years, says the death of Mr Carter “was devastating”.

“We got very good help, which I will never give back to him,” he added.

However, it is not uncommon for people to be wrongly convicted of crimes in the US, according to the group Innocence Project, which promotes the work of those convicted of wrongful conviction.

The group estimates that two prisoners every week are wrongfully convicted.

Nine recent prisoners that the organisation has helped since 2000 – out of about 60 who applied – have received an exoneration after the Supreme Court agreed they had been wrongfully convicted, according to the US justice department.

Mr Carter died in 2004 and his family is hoping the 2008 ruling will now clear his name.

“He was the best fighter I ever met, there is no doubt about that,” said Mr Artis.

“You don’t want to step in the ring with someone like him, but that is the truth, I have never stepped in the ring with anyone like him.”

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