HOURS BEFORE THE MURDERS
CARTER HUNTS FOR HIS GUNS
Weapons had been missing for a year
The following is a portion of a March 1986 prosecutor's
brief written in response to a Federal District Court decision to set
aside Carter's conviction. It outlines evidence of Carter's attempts
to locate his missing guns -- including a .12 gauge shotgun -- on the
night of June 16, 1966, just after his friend's stepdad had been murdered
and just hours before the Lafayette Grill triple murder.
SEARCH FOR GUNS
Very significant evidence was presented to the jury regarding
" a search for guns." There is no dispute in the evidence that
at the time of the murders, defendant Carter had owned certain guns, including
a 12-gauge shotgun. These guns had been missing for about a year. While
these guns had been missing all that time, the evidence showed that the
defendant Carter was searching for his guns, for the first time, in the
space of a few hours from the time that Mr. Carter met Edward Rawls and
learned of his father's murder and the time of the Lafayette Grill murders.
The prosecution argued that this information presented the jury with very
relevant and highly probative evidence as to the guilt of the defendant
Carter. Certainly the defendant Carter's efforts to locate long-missing
guns at this particular time would seem to constitute very incriminating
evidence, particularly when considered together with all other evidence
in the case.
The jury at the second trial was read the testimony of defendant Rubin
Carter given before a Grand Jury preliminarily looking into the matter
on June 29, l966, less than two weeks after the event. This Grand Jury
was simply recording information. No complaint had been filed against
anyone. There was no target for the Grand Jury(36aA 8339-74).
In that testimony, defendant Carter indicated that the weapons, including
two or three .22 caliber rifles and a 12-gauge pump shotgun, had been
stolen from his training camp many months before. Carter had for a considerable
time intended to confront Neil Morrison concerning information he had
from a witness, Annabelle Chandler, who had seen Mr. Morrison with the
guns. Carter testified he had intended to take Morrison to see that witness.
On the evening of June 16, l966, Carter met Neil Morrison at the Nite
Spot and confronted him with this information(36aA 8339-42)
At the time, Carter was with Neil Morrison, Merritt Wimberly and Jerry
Reeves, in a car outside the Nite Spot. At about 11.00 p.m., they saw
Eddie Rawls and heard about his father being shot. Rawls had just returned
from the hospital, and Carter and the others gave him their condolences
according to Carter's testimony(326aA 8343-45).
Rawls (then went into the bar, while Carter and the other three men drove
to the Christopher Columbus Housing Project to the home of Annabelle Chandler
in an effort to track down his missing guns(36aA 8345-49).
The district court states (1aD 24) that, "the search (for Carter's
guns) may have occurred before petitioners knew of the shooting of James
Oliver(36T 140-145)." (Emphasis added). This statement by the district
court apparently contains a typographical error. The court must have intended
to say that the search may have occurred even before the petitioners learned
of the death of Leroy Holloway who was Eddie Rawl's stepfather. James
Oliver was the bartender at the Lafayette Grill. However, this statement
by the court with the citation (36T 140-145) given by the court makes
no sense because that citation refers to the testimony which the appellants
have outlined in the four paragraphs preceding this one. The citation
given by the district court refers to Rubin Carter's testimony before
the Grand Jury which was read at the trial (36aA 8339-74). In that testimony,
the defendant Carter said that after he spoke with Eddie Rawls at the
Nite Spot about the death of his father and after he offered Eddie Rawls
his condolences, then he (Carter) became involved in the search for his
guns (36aA 8343-49). The reference to the record cited by the district
court does not support what the court says is shown there. In fact, the
record shows just the opposite. The record shows that the defendant Carter
said he became involved in the search for his guns after he learned of
Mr. Holloway's death.
This area of the record was specifically brought to the attention of the
district court. The district court's reference citation to the record
to support its statements that the search for guns may have occurred before
the petitioners knew of Mr. Holloway's death is stated by the court as
(36T 140-145). Page 140 of volume 36 of the trial transcripts is missing
from the appellants set of trial transcripts. However, at that place (page
140) in the transcript, the prosecution was in the process of reading
to the trial jury, the Grand Jury testimony of Rubin Carter. By comparing
the transcript of Mr. Carter's Grand Jury testimony with the trial transcript,
it readily can be determined what testimony was read to the trial jury
on page 140. By examining where the reading of the Grand Jury testimony
ended on the bottom of page 139 and where it began on the top of page
141, it can be determined what testimony was read on page 140.
The appellants specifically submitted to the district court the pages
of Rubin Carter's Grand Jury testimony which correspond to the testimony
read to the jury on page 140. This transcript was enclosed with a letter
to the district court from First Assistant Prosecutor John P. Goceljak
dated October 1, 1985. That letter and the relevant transcript has been
included in the appendix as (1aD 335-345). The contents on page 140 of
volume 36 of the trial transcript appear on page 150 of the Grand Jury
transcript as indicated there.
On page 140, Rubin Carter momentarily says he and Mr. Morrison drove off
from the Nite Spot without getting out of the car. However, he immediately
takes this back and says that he (Carter) got out of the car, spoke to
Eddie Rawls about his father's death and then drove off to search for
his guns. The pages of the testimony which follow do not support the district
court's statement that "the search for guns may have occurred before
the petitioners learner of Mr. Holloway's death." This testimony
cannot be made to read that way short of distorting what is clearly stated
According to Carter's Grand Jury testimony, he took Mr. Morrison to Miss
Chandler's apartment "for her to tell him that she seen my guns because
she had described my guns to me." However, Carter alleged that the
woman at the time was ill with cancer and reluctant to confront Mr. Morrison
with the information she had, so he (Carter) dropped the matter. They
then returned to the Nite Spot, arriving there after midnight (36aA 8349-51).
This trip to Annabelle Chandler's apartment for the purpose of ascertaining
whether Morrison had knowledge of the whereabouts of Carter's long-missing
guns, was verified by the testimony of George Andrews, a neighbor and
a friend of Annabelle Chandler at the time. George Andrews testified that
he had seen Carter, Morrison and Wimberly leaving the apartment that night.
His recollection was that this had been between 9:30 to 10:30 p.m. (39aA
Merritt Wimberly, who like George Andrews was a defense witness at the
retrial, testified that his recollection was that after a conversation
had begun between Rubin Carter and Neil Morrison about whether the latter
fhad stolen guns from Carter, Rubin Carter, Morrison, Reeves and himself
had gone to see Annabelle Chandler about 11:30 p.m. that night in Morrison's
car. They returned to the Nite Spot about 12:30 a.m. (39aA 8904-09).
In his Grand Jury testimony, as read to the jury in the retrial, defendant
Carter testified that after he returned to the Nite Spot there were conversations
there concerning the murder of Leroy Holloway, and "It was all around
that there was going to be some shaking going on." At the time Eddie
Rawls was at the Nite Spot with his brother (36aA 8352-57).
Carter further testified that he met Eddie Rawls again at Richie's Hideway
at about 1:20 a.m. (36aA 8370-72).
Was this evidence regarding the defendant Carter's search for his guns
"frayed"? The district court doesn't say that it was and it
doesn't say that it wasn't. It avoids any such evaluation. The district
court states that the search for guns does not constitute evidence of
motive (1aD 23-24) and then when the court goes on to itemize and present
each area of the State's evidence which the court says is weak ("frayed"),
it simply does not include any mention of the area of the evidence that
deals with the defendant Carter's search for his guns.
The only response to this evidence from the district court is contained
in its discussion of the relevance of the search for the guns to the question
of motive. The court states:
...links of this evidentiary chain are corroded.
There was no evidence that Carter found the
weapons (1aD 23).
The fact that there was no definitive evidence to show that Carter found
his lost guns or located other weapons, does not in the slightest detract
from the value of the evidence that he was searching for long-missing
guns under all these surrounding circumstances. It is not reasonable to
expect there there will ever be a criminal case in which the prosecution
can account for every step, every act, every thought undertaken by the
defendant during the time leading up to the commission of the crime. This
is particularly true in murder cases. The factor that in every criminal
case, the prosecution cannot present a universal accounting of the defendant's
thoughts and acts just prior to the crime, does not of itself constitute
a valid basis to assail that information about the defendant's activity
which has been discovered and can be submitted in evidence.
In the long space of time that the defendant Carter's guns were missing
and in the long period of time that Carter knew about Neil Morrison's
connection with those guns, there was no evidence before the jury that
Carter made any effort toward reclaiming the guns until after he learned
of Mr. Holloway's murder and before the Lafayette Grill murders. The record
regarding this evidence cannot be fairly and reasonably construed in any
way other than that the jury had to have considered this compelling and
probative evidence of guilt.