John Artis was the forgotten man and the forgotten hero in the famous judicial error that sent him and boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter to prison for years for a crime they did not commit.
Artis died of a gastric aneurysm at his home in Hampton, Virginia, on November 7. He was 75 years old.
His ordeal was immortalized in the 1975 Bob Dylan song Hurricane and then it was made into a movie starring Denzel Washington.
In 1966, Artis and Carter were arrested for a triple murder at Lafayette Bar and Grill, a watering hole in Paterson, New Jersey. An all-white jury convicted the couple.
Even after two criminals retracted their statements implicating Artis and Carter in the murders, they remained in prison. Another witness also changed his mind.
Artis had been offered a good deal if he pointed to Carter in the massacre. He rejected it and was adamant that both men were innocent and Carter later called him “my hero.”
But there was little mention of Artis in the 1999 Washington movie.
He was finally released from prison in 1981 after serving 15 years behind bars. A judge overturned the convictions in 1985 when the couple became a celebrity with Dylan and stalwarts like Muhammad Ali, who lobbied for their freedom.
After their release from prison, both Artis and Carter, who died in 2014, became advocates for the wrongfully convicted. But Artis didn’t like living in the past.
“He had a relatively healthy attitude compared to most people. He wanted to put that (prison time) behind him, ”his lawyer and friend Fred Hogan told the New York Daily News.
“He always had a smile, and his famous saying was ‘cool beans.’