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'I realized I couldn't stand and say I was guilty of a murder when I didn't commit it.' Chris Bates, offered freedom if he pleads guilty. Chris Bates, left, will fight for freedom with help from Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter, above. Convicted man calls case 'lies' Ex-boxer Rubin ''Hurricane'' Carter fought for 20 years to clear his name after he was wrongly convicted of murder. Now, he's taking $50,000 in proceeds from a movie on his life to fight for another man who he says is also the victim of a massive miscarriage of justice. Carter is played by actor Denzel Washington in the feature movie The Hurricane, which opened across North America last night.
Carter said yesterday he's convinced that Chris Bates, 28, of Cowansville, Que., is innocent of the 1991 murder of a variety store clerk in Quebec's Eastern Township. Bates has already served six years in prison. He won a new trial last year after a team of Toronto unearthed new evidence that pointed to another man as a more likely suspect. Yesterday in a Longueuil court, Bates faced an agonizing decision. He could have walked free into the Montreal suburb immediately - if he had accepted a plea bargain and pleaded guilty to the shotgun murder of a variety store clerk in Cowansville, Que. But he also would have had to spend the rest of his life branded as a convicted killer. Or he could continue to fight the murder charge and risk a life sentence in prison. Bates said that telephone conversations with Carter - who now lives in Toronto - convinced him it was worth it to fight to clear his name.
''I realized I couldn't stand and say I was guilty of a murder when I didn't commit it,'' Bates said yesterday in a telephone interview, minutes after turning down the plea bargain. ''Justice shouldn't want you to lie, and this whole case has been about lies.'' Bates' decision to fight the charges came after an extended and emotional telephone conversation with Carter late Tuesday night and early yesterday morning. Carter is executive director of the Toronto-based Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, formed after the wrongful murder conviction of Guy Paul Morin of Queensville. ''Part of my decision was because of Rubin,'' Bates said. ''The guy never gave up. His nickname 'The Hurricane' just suits this guy perfectly. He said, 'Don't worry. We're going to take care of this thing right.' '' Carter described the outcome of yesterday's courthouse drama as ''fantastic.'' ''This is when you have to stand up and be counted and Chris stood up,'' Carter said. ''I am so proud of him.'' Asked if he would be celebrating last night - because of the movie's opening and Bates' decision, Carter burst out laughing. ''I celebrate every second that life is flowing through my body,'' he said. ''Every second.'' Bates said he was worried about being able to pay for his defence until he was told Carter was able to get $50,000 in money from the movie company Universal, which has been directed to Carter's group. Bates decided yesterday to hire defence lawyer James Lockyer of Toronto. Lockyer, an executive member of the wrongly convicted association, previously defended Morin, who spent 18 months in prison for a murder he did not commit.
Carter said he became convinced of Bates' innocence after Toronto Sean Gladney and Bill Joynt of the Investigators Group looked into the case. 'His nickname 'The Hurricane' just suits this guy perfectly' Gladney was with Bates yesterday in court. He said the pressure on Bates was enormous. ''When you walk in the front door you know you will walk out of the same door if you plead guilty,'' Gladney said. ''We saw the prosecutor. He said he was all set for Chris to plead guilty.'' Gladney said Carter was a key figure in the background of yesterday's courthouse drama. ''He talked about the positive and the negative,'' Gladney said. ''He also opened my eyes up by discussing the consequences if Chris does plead guilty. Rubin said he's branded for life. And if he doesn't, his freedom is taken away from him if he loses.'' Carter said that Bates ultimately had to make the decision by himself. ''Chris had to understand both sides of it,'' Carter said. ''. . . He's the one who had to suffer the consequences.'' Bates was 20 at the time of his arrest in 1991.
At the time, he turned down a deal to plead guilty to manslaughter for a six- to eight-year sentence. Instead, he fought - and lost - and got a life sentence. No forensic evidence was presented at his trial six years ago to link him to the shotgun death of shopkeeper Remy Lariviere. No fingerprints, gunpowder residue, footprints or eye witnesses tied Bates to the murder scene. What the crown did have against Bates was the testimony of a 17-year-old ex- girlfriend, who said Bates left a party nearby to go to the store. She later gave several conflicting statements. For four years, Bates spent hundreds of hours in almost daily telephone contact with Carter's group, including Win Wahrer, who fought for the vindication of Morin. Bates' mother Janet was overcome with emotion when her son decided to fight to clear his name, even if it meant risking going back to prison. ''I had no idea last night what his decision would be,'' she said yesterday. ''It would have been horrible if he took the deal. . . . I'm still shaking. I didn't sleep last night.''by Peter Edwards and Harold LevyToronto Star, December 30, 1999