Boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter died this week at the age of 76. Over the course of his long, notorious life, Carter was best known not for his exploits in the ring, but because he served nearly 20 years in prison for a crime many people believe he did not commit.
Carter was the subject of the scorching Bob Dylan protest song “Hurricane” as well as a movie featuring Denzel Washington.
Just a few weeks before he died, Carter outlined his “dying wish” in a column published in the New York Daily News.
“I am now quite literally on my deathbed and am making my final wish to those with the legal authority to act,” Carter wrote.
“My single regret in life is that David McCallum of Brooklyn -- a man incarcerated in 1985, the same year I was released, and represented by Innocence International since 2004 -- is still in prison. I request only that McCallum be granted a full hearing by the Brooklyn conviction integrity unit, now under the auspices of the new district attorney, Ken Thompson. Knowing what I do, I am certain that when the facts are brought to light, Thompson will recommend his immediate release.”
Carter’s interest in the McCallum case is understandable. He believes McCallum is experiencing the same nightmare of wrongful imprisonment Carter himself lived through.
Carter has now died, but his fight for justice lives on. One of the people in McCallum’s corner is Irish American lawyer John Kennedy O’Hara.
O’Hara, as well as lawyer Oscar Michelen, argue that new Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson should review the details of the case which has left McCallum in prison for nearly 30 years.
McCallum’s accused accomplice, Willie Stuckey, died in prison in 2001. Both were arrested in 1985 and charged with murdering a Queens man in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
This is not the first time O’Hara has clashed with authorities in Brooklyn. A long time candidate for local political office, O’Hara became involved in numerous political battles with Brooklyn power brokers such as former Brooklyn District Attorney (and fellow Irish American) Charles Hynes.
O’Hara was even prosecuted by Hynes’ office for the unusual crime of voting illegally, thus making him the only person found guilty of this crime in all of New York State in the 20th century. (O’Hara was residing about half of his time at a girlfriend’s house, and so voted in that district.) Critics have long charged that the prosecution was payback for O’Hara’s political activism.
The wrongful imprisonment case of McCallum once again pits O’Hara against Hynes. As Hurricane Carter noted in his assessment of the case: “Not a single piece of evidence ever implicated (McCallum and Stuckey) in this crime nor placed them anywhere near the scene. Their two confessions, gained by force and trickery, are not corroborated even by each other; they read as if two different crimes were committed.
“The police, prosecutor and judge jumped on those confessions like dogs on a bone, and the office of the previous Brooklyn DA, Charlie ‘Joe’ Hynes, had been chewing on it ever since. New affidavits strongly indicate that potentially exculpatory police reports were lost, discarded or suppressed. DNA testing and fingerprint evidence all point in other directions.”
O’Hara’s long, strange Brooklyn battles were outlined in a fascinating 2005 Harper’s magazine article, which described O’Hara as “the son of working-class Irish” and “the first in his family to go to college.”
The article then took a close look at O’Hara’s war with numerous other Brooklyn Irish politicians, including Hynes as well as Assemblyman James Brennan and one of Brennan’s top staffers, John Keefe.
Hynes, of course, lost the Democratic DA primary to Thompson last year. O’Hara -- as well as McCallum -- are hoping this change ultimately leads to a reversal of the case Rubin “Hurricane” Carter did not live to see.
Contact “Sidewalks” at tdeignan.blogspot.com.