John Artis -- Along for the Ride


Meanwhile, far away in another part of town,

Rubin Carter and a couple of friends are drivin' around

from "Hurricane"
by Dylan/Levy

Killer or patsy?
Carter looks at young Artis
with concern.... er....
I think that's concern....


John Artis' alibi
didn't match Carter's

Hazel Tanis, one of the victims,
gave a description of her assailant before she died
-- see the police sketch

Once the trial began, Artis' lawyer said he would have requested a separate trial for his client, if he could have gone first.

Artis was a model prisoner, participating in sports and taking college courses.

He developed Buerger's disease, a condition that affects blood circulation, and he lost some of his fingers and toes.

Artis was paroled in 1981, after having served fifteen years.

He was back in prison five years later, on charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and illegal possession of a handgun.


Carter and Artis on the
lecture circuit, 2001

"[Artis] and I had an agreement in here that I would do the law [handle their defense], you know, and that was it. And so we have always kept up that agreement."

-- Carter responds to a journalist who asks if Artis is "thinking for himself... and doing the right thing," The Aquarian, Sept. 1975


After leaving prison a second time, Artis worked as a juvenile counselor and then as a corrections officer.

Victim -- of bad legal advice

Artis says he was "raised not to lie" and therefore he couldn't turn on Carter. But why didn't he just say that he, like the third man in the car, "Bucks" Royster, didn't know what was going on?

Artis would have been much better off if he had asked for a separate trial and testified that he'd hopped into Carter's car at 2:30 in the morning, and that he had no idea what Carter was doing before that. (If he was innocent, as he claims, this has the added advantage of being the truth.) Artis stood a pretty good chance of being acquitted on the basis of reasonable doubt, since there was no physical evidence linking him to the case, and he had no prior criminal record. Even the prosecutor and the judge tried to help him see that being tried together with Carter was against his best interests!

The prosecutor "made a detailed presentation to alert the defense about their option to seek a severance... in light of the fact that some evidence related only to (Carter)... the defendant Artis personally and, through his attorney, declined the trial court's invitation to sever the case...." (from prosecution appeal brief)

Judge Bruno Leopizzi, before the second trial, offered that he would "consider a motion to sever," that is, agree to consider splitting Artis' case off from Carter's. Again, Artis and his lawyer refused.

Instead, Artis signed up for the defense strategy of claiming that there was a police conspiracy against Carter. To make matters worse, his lawyer, Lewis M. Steel, was rude and confrontational in the courtroom, which the jury didn't like.

Predictably, when Carter and Artis were found guilty a second time, attorneys Myron Beldock and Lewis M. Steel accused the jury of being racist (against the defendants) and anti-Semitic (against them). Prosecutor Burrell Humphreys said that the defense attorneys blew it. "The best way to try a case is to stress reasonable doubt, and not antagonize the court, heap abuse on the prosecutor, and try to convince everybody the police are out to get you."

Artis went back to prison and served another six years before being paroled in 1981.

When The Hurricane movie came out, Steel wrote in The Nation that the movie was a "cinematic crime" that gave too much emphasis to the Canadians and ignored the fact that it was brilliant legal work that freed the Hurricane!

Artis's lawyers have a lot to answer for

"All along, [Artis] protested his innocence. He was, he said, just a young man who went along for a ride with Carter on that fateful night. The prosecution contended that he was a star-struck boy who’d had too much to drink and went along for the ride on a murder spree, swayed by [Rubin "Hurricane"] Carter’s charisma and charm. A year before the second trial, prosecutors reportedly offered Artis full clemency if he would testify against Carter. He refused. For the second trial, Artis had the option of being tried separately, but he and his lawyer went along with Carter’s defense strategy. The catastrophe that was the second trial was due entirely to the blunders made by Carter and his supporters. It was Carter who created the damning evidence of the letter coaching his alibi witnesses in their story. Artis had nothing to do with attempts to bribe Bello into recanting his testimony. It was Carter who was accused of beating a female supporter, and it was Carter who wrote a book that was chock full of demonstrable falsehoods and overt racist diatribes.

If Artis is innocent, as he claims, he must particularly regret turning down the offer from Prosecutor [Burrell] Humphreys before the second trial -- if you pass a lie detector test, you can go free. Fail the test, and it won’t be used against you in court."

from The Hurricane Hoax

Why didn't Artis's lawyer ask for a separate trial for his client?

"What bothered [Prosecutor] Humphreys the most about Beldock and Steel was what he perceived to be their overriding concern with being able to make money off the case, through future profits from books and movies... "they had to make a decision on whether they wanted to win, or whether they wanted to win in a manner designed to produce books. If they were acquitted on the basis of reasonable doubt, would that make much of a movie?" Humphreys believed that this mentality was the primary reason why Lewis Steel decided not to seek a severance and have his client, John Artis, tried separately."

from Rubin "Hurricane" Carter and the American Justice System

College-bound athlete or unemployed draftee?

John Artis had been out of high school for several years and was about to be drafted in the Army. His defense lawyers and supporters always describe him as a promising athlete, about to go to college on an athletic scholarship. Not an important issue in itself, but another example of how the defense has painted a picture inconsistent with reality. Carter actually mentions that Artis wasn't going to college, in his autobiography, The 16th Round:

"John was a tall and rangy light-skinned boy whom I had met twice since I'd been home. He was a whiz at most sports, but had turned down several athletic scholarships to college, deciding instead to enlist in the Army."

“I was raised not to lie.”

Artis can tell whoppers too,
just like his more famous co-defendant

This interview is from the Virginian Pilot, Feb. 26, 1994

Artis Version
Historical Record
"Behind the wheel of Carter's 1966 white Dodge, Artis glanced in the rear-view mirror and saw a Paterson police cruiser flashing its lights. "I knew I wasn't driving fast or drunk," said Artis.... Artis testified he'd been drinking heavily that night and had thrown up. Another potential line of defense, that his lawyer ignored, was that Artis was too drunk to have committed the crimes.
[Carter and Artis went on their way but were stopped again]. Moments later, the intersection filled with 20 police cars. Carter claims it was five police cars, the police say there were two cars.
Police escorted them into the emergency room, where a man and woman wounded in the shooting said they were not the gunmen. "That's not them," the man said over and over, according to Artis. The woman, who later died from the gunshots, just shook her head no. The detective who took them to the hospital said that Willie Marins said, "I don't know, I'm not sure." That's also what Marins testified at the first trial. Hazel Tanis, the female victim, was taken to a different hospital. Carter and Artis were never taken to see her. See the eyewitnesses for more details.
Artis was booked on murder charges. His spring plans to leave for Adams State College in Colorado on a track scholarship evaporated. Artis had graduated from high school two years before, had worked, then quit his job. He was facing the Army draft. No evidence was ever presented in court to show that he was bound for college, in fall or spring.
Police notes were lost or destroyed and couldn't be produced at trial. Years later, some of the notes surfaced, Artis said. The description of the gunmen was of two tall, light skinned black men between 175 and 200 pounds with dark clothing. Eyewitness descriptions of the gunmen (from Marins and Tanis who had been shot in the head and five times in the body, respectively) were confusing and contradictory. But they were never "lost or destroyed."
"I hope that every time that I speak that I can do something to preclude (young people) from getting involved in street life..." Still, Artis doesn't mention, in this lengthy interview, that he went back to prison after being paroled for the triple murders, when he pled guilty to dealing cocaine.


[ About the movie | About the books | Carter's credibility | Library | The murders | The two trials | About/Contact | Home