Although there is overwhelming evidence to suggest otherwise, Charlie “Devil” Green, who competed against some of the top light heavyweights and heavyweights of the sixties and seventies, insists that he is not a triple murderer. However, twelve Manhattan jurors and a whole bunch of other people disagree with that assessment.
Green, who says he was born in Mississippi in 1939 but is listed in at least one boxing record source as being born in 1942 and in 1948 by the New York State Department of Corrections, is currently serving a sentence of 45-years-to-life for the early morning murders of Craig Carr, Elliott Williams and Phyllis Rogers inside a Harlem cocaine den in September 1983. He was also convicted of the attempted murder of two others, one of whom was shot and one of whom was stabbed.
He is serving his time at the maximum security prison in Shawangunk, New York, where Jack Hirsch, the senior editor of the Las Vegas-based newspaper Ring Sports, and I visited him on August 17. Ironically, the prison is a stone’s throw from the home of former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, who scored a tenth round TKO over Green at Madison Square Garden in September 1970.
Among the other boxing notables whom Green tangled with are Frankie DePaula, who he stopped in two rounds, Jimmy Dupree, who beat Green twice, former light heavyweight champion Jose Torres, and longtime heavyweight titlist Larry Holmes, who stopped Green in two rounds in March 1975, in what would be Green’s final fight.
Besides being a staple at many New York boxing venues, Green, who campaigned from 1966-75, fought in such diverse locations as Belgium, England, Germany, Las Vegas, Honolulu, Pennsylvania and Ohio. His final ring ledger was 14-15 (9 KOs).
In boxing circles, the hard-punching Green is best known for the unusual circumstances surrounding his fight with Torres, which occurred at MSG in July 1969. Torres’s original opponent, Jimmy Ralston, fled the arena just hours before the fight that had attracted legions of Torres’s maniacal Puerto Rican fans. Green jokes that Ralston got “stage fright.”
Green, who said he “smoked a reefer” before entering the Garden, was enjoying a hot dog and a beer when he was summoned to duty as a last minute replacement. He quickly laced up the gloves and began pummeling Torres in the first round, dropping him with his vaunted right hand. He knocked Torres down again in the second before the much more seasoned Torres came to his senses and rebounded with a sensational second round knockout victory.
While that story is still told around New York, the crimes for which Green was convicted are equally legendary. While we have come to expert such grisly occurrences since the advent of crack cocaine in 1986, these murders occurred three years before crack even existed. Free-basing cocaine was the way to ingest the drug in its most potent form, and like so many other things in his life, especially gambling and drinking, Green free-based in excess.
Many of his friends and family, including former welterweight contender Harold Weston Jr., who credits Green with helping raise him to be a productive citizen, insist that Green’s personality was altered for the worse by drugs. The Green that Weston knew would not have been capable of such horrific acts. Cocaine changed him, says Weston, in ways he never could have imagined.
“Charlie was a caring, generous man who was like a big brother to me,” said the 53-year-old Weston. “They say it takes a village to raise a family and Charlie and his family was my village. He taught me a lot of street knowledge, and I managed to survive that era where a lot of people got messed up. He was the last guy you’d think would get involved with drugs. It’s terrible that he couldn’t have gotten into a hospital and gotten some help. He’s good people, so it’s hard for me to jump ship on him because he got in trouble. I love him to death and will never give up on him.”
Green’s potential for trouble was actually detected as early as 1958 when he was medically discharged from the Marine Corps. The reasons, as cited in court papers, was him being “unfit for duty due to convulsions, disorientation, wandering around in the rain for two hours before regaining awareness, loss of consciousness, confusion, blackouts, left frontal headaches and epilepsy grand mal(ady).”
Although Green’s attorney utilized an insanity defense at his trial, the crimes were so heinous and the evidence so strong, he was convicted almost as quickly as O.J. Simpson was acquitted. When asked how long it took the jury to convict him, Green responded disdainfully, “Not very long.”
Green says that he was present at the murder scene and even wrestled with the actual killer. He also states that the victims were killed because they had robbed one of the biggest drug dealers in Harlem.
One surviving victim who testified at Green’s trial said she remembers seeing him in the doorway of the coke den with a gun in his hand. He asked where the money and cocaine was. Then, she said, Green put down a free-basing pipe and announced, “You are all going to die in here tonight. Then he grabbed Craig and shot him. Then he grabbed Elliott and shot him …”
A few hours after the killings Green was hanging on the air shaft of the 15th floor offices of his attorney’s office in downtown Manhattan. Bare-chested, he was snorting cocaine out of a plastic bag with one hand as he threatened to jump to his death. It took an army of emergency service police officers to rein him in.
Green says that he ran the eight or so miles downtown because he knew that he would be blamed for the crime. “I was at a party, lying on a bed when I heard shots,” he explained. “I’d been free-basing for two days. I see a guy cutting (one of the victims) with a knife. I ran out the door to help and saw three mother——s dead.”
Green says he began grappling with the assailant, and they eventually toppled out of the second flood window and into the street. He then ran, barefooted and shirtless, to his lawyer’s office.
While there Green remembers telling himself, “My life is over, I’m going to kill myself. I’m going to jump to my death on Broadway.”
While Green might have difficulty convincing others of his innocence, he is more erudite when discussing his fall from grace. He admits that he always had no shortage of bad habits, all of which were exacerbated when he started running a disco called “Dom” on East 8th Street in Manhattan. It was a hip and happening place and Green says, “I was the n—— in charge. I could hire or fire you and I’d let you sell reefer if you paid me.”
Green’s biggest vice was always gambling and friends have often joked that he’d bet on roach races if he could. To this day Green says he gambles every night, playing poker with fellow inmates for stamps and cigarettes. Gambling was something he always felt he could control, while his incessant drug use sent his life into a downward spiral from which he could never recover.
“I started doing drugs after the Patterson fight,” he recalled. “Before that I did good things. I took over city owned buildings, put a sign on one door that said “Sugar Hill Youth Opportunity Program,” and put in a day care center and an old people facility. I wanted to help people, help my community. Once I started doing drugs, that all ended. All I cared about was getting high.”
Although Green says he has evidence that could free him, namely some clerical errors on some of the court affidavits and disputing the credibility of several witnesses, one of whom is a surviving victim, it is doubtful he will ever see another day of freedom. Regardless of what his true age is now (because of his Marine Corps record, the best guess is he was born in 1939), he is not eligible for parole until 2028 when he will be 89-years-old.
While his neck is still thick, his stomach taut, and his arms strong, Green’s gauntness makes it apparent that he has been sick. Even though he denies the medical diagnosis, he was recently treated for prostate cancer. He believes he received the treatment so the doctors could bilk the system out of thousands of dollars.
He also believes that if someone like filmmaker Spike Lee could get word about the injustice of his incarceration, freedom could conceivably come long before he serves his minimum sentence.
“Remember something,” says Green, whose wife, a hospital administrator, as well other family members still visit him regularly. “There are no rapists or thieves in prison. Everyone says they’re a killer to get respect. I’ve steered drug buyers, was a middleman for stolen cars and jewelry, and did a lot of bad things. But in this case I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Everyone that was killed had longer records than mine. I’m no killer.”
Moreover, conceded Green, if he wasn’t sent to jail he most certainly would have been dead by now. He then showed us a newspaper photo of himself in a strait-jacket with a deranged look on his face being hoisted into an ambulance.
“I was dying, I was killing myself on drugs,” said Green who says he now derives a degree of spiritual contentment from the fact that he is a practicing Ethiopian Jew. “I want to get out of jail, but I won’t die if I don’t. Being in prison saved my life, even if I was wrongfully convicted of three murders. I’ve done a lot of right things and a lot of wrong things, but I didn’t do that.”