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Charley Green: The Devil Made Him Do It

By Robert Mladinich on March 22, 2020


Floyd Patterson scored a tenth round TKO over Green at Madison Square Garden in 1970.

Although there was overwhelming evidence to suggest otherwise, Charley “Devil” Green, who competed against some of the top light heavyweights and heavyweights of the 1960s and 1970s, always insisted he was not a triple murderer. However, twelve Manhattan jurors and a lot of others disagreed with that assessment.


He was convicted of the early morning murders of Craig Carr, Elliott Williams, and Phyllis Rogers inside a Harlem cocaine den on St. Nicholas Avenue in September 1983, as well as the attempted murder of two others, one of whom was shot while the other was stabbed.


During an August 2005 jailhouse visit at the maximum-security prison in Shawangunk, New York, where he was serving a sentence of 45-years-to-life, Green, who passed away in November 2014 at the age of 75, discussed both his criminal convictions and his colorful boxing career.


Ironically, the prison is a stone’s throw from the home of the late former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, who scored a tenth round TKO over Green at Madison Square Garden in September 1970.


Besides Patterson, Green tangled with such notables as 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 the second round in March 1975, in what would be Green’s final bout.


Fighting between 1966 and 1975, Green was a staple at many New York boxing venues, but also laced them up in Belgium, England, Germany, Las Vegas, Honolulu, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. His final ring record was 13-15 (8 KOs).


In boxing circles, Green was 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 joked that Ralston got “stage fright.”


Green said he “smoked a reefer” before entering the Garden and was enjoying a hot dog and a beer when he was summoned to duty as a last minute replacement. He quickly donned shorts and gloves and was soon pummeling Torres. He even dropped Torres in the first round.


He knocked Torres down again in the second before the 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 expect 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, said Weston, in ways he never could have imagined.


“Charley was a caring, generous man who was like a big brother to me,” Weston said prior to Green’s death. “They say it takes a village to raise a family and Charley 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 continued. “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 penchant for trouble was 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 malady.”


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 admitted he was present at the murder scene but insisted that he wrestled with the actual killer. He also stated 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 airshaft of the 15th floor offices of his attorney’s office in downtown Manhattan. He was bare-chested, snorting cocaine out of a plastic bag with one hand, and threatening to jump to his death. It took an army of emergency service police officers to rein him in.


Green said 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 said he began grappling with the assailant, and they eventually toppled out of the second floor window and into the street. He then ran, barefooted and shirtless, to his lawyer’s office.


Green remembers telling himself, “My life is over, I’m going to kill myself. I’m going to jump to my death on Broadway.”


Green said he 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 in the late 1960s.


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.  Even in prison Green said he gambled 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.”


At the time of the interview, Green’s neck was thick, his stomach taut, and his arms strong, but his overall gauntness made it apparent that he was sick. Even though he denied the medical diagnosis, he was being treated for prostate cancer. He believed he received the treatment so the doctors could bilk the system out of thousands of dollars.


He also believed that if someone like filmmaker Spike Lee could get the word out about the injustice of his incarceration, freedom could conceivably come long before he served his minimum sentence.


“Remember something, there are no rapists or thieves in prison,” asserted Green. “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, he conceded, if he hadn’t been imprisoned he most certainly would have been dead by then. He then showed a newspaper photo of himself in a straitjacket with a deranged look on his face being hoisted into an ambulance at the time of his arrest.


“I was dying, I was killing myself on drugs,” declared Green who said he obtained spiritual contentment from the fact that he was 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.”

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