Hayden Covington cut short a legal presentation (Draft case) for a JW brother from Oklahoma (Sam Salamy) in 1967-mid trial because he had received a phone call from Muhammad Ali’s legal team who offered a quarter of a million dollars if he could get Muhammed Ali off in his ‘Draft Dodging’ court case.
Only JW's whose families had enough money could afford to hire Covington on reputation alone. Sam Salamy ended up paying Covington ten-thousand dollars and got convicted anyway.
Hopping into the limelight, Lawyer Covington took the lazy way out suggesting Muhammed Ali should accept a guilty sentence and seek to make a deal with the prosecutor, Morton Susman, United States Attorney. In fact, he talked Ali into requesting that the Judge sentence him immediately!
It was this tactic which frustrated and upset Ali's first-hired attorney, Quinnan A. Hodges of Houston. It is also the reason Ali's handlers refused to pay Covington when all was said and done.
(Attorney M.W. Plummer and Attorney Chauncey Eskridge are the real legal heroes of the Ali story).
How was Covington's plan supposed to work?
Federal District Judge Joe E. Ingraham sentenced Clay to five years in prison and fined him $10,000. This was the maximum penalty for the offense, which is a felony.
The judge's sentence was pronounced immediately at Clay's request.
"I'd appreciate it," the 25-year-old boxer said, "if the court will do it now, give me my sentence now, instead of waiting and stalling for time."
Prosecutor Morton Susman and Hayden Covington had worked out a deal, but IT WAS NOT BINDING on the Judge! The Judge double-crossed him by refusing to grant probation.
New York Time news article: "Both Mr. Covington and Mr. Hodges asked Judge Ingraham to put Clay on probation. Failing that, said Mr. Covington, the former champion should not be given a sentence more severe than those given in similar cases. "That's 18 months," he said."
Follow this link:
How then, did Muhammad Ali avoid serving even ten minutes of incarceration?
The appeals process allowed his competent attorney M.W. Plummer to pursue the real problem in the case:
Ali's Draft Board didn't consider him to be sincere as a real minister
2. Ali failed the Army's intelligence test and did not qualify to serve
The Supreme Court in Clay v. United States reversed his conviction in 1971. (Ali’s birth name was Cassius Clay.)
“[T]he Department [of Justice] was simply wrong as a matter of law in advising that the petitioner’s beliefs were not religiously based and were not sincerely held,” the opinion said. Even though Ali prevailed 8-0 before the high court, Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong later reported in The Brethren that the justices initially voted against him, finding that he wasn’t really a conscientious objector and that he should go to jail. Apparently, one of Justice John Marshall Harlan’s law clerks loaned the justice a copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Harlan read the book and changed his views on Black Muslims.
Ali was the most famous person on planet Earth for many years.
He was larger than life, provocative, irrepressible and charismatic.
Had Ali not suffered brain damage and subsequent symptoms of Parkinson's disease, he could have had a powerful political influence on the world at large.
Instead, he became a historical icon and legendary boxing figure only later eclipsed by the ferocious legacy of Mike Tyson.
What possible connection could this man have had with my life?
At around the same time I was facing imprisonment for being a conscientious objector (Vietnam War) Cassius Clay was converting to Islam and changing his name.
Clay/ Ali was a highly controversial figure at the time.
Although he never spent as much as ten seconds inside a jail cell, the enormous publicity of his situation brought intense public awareness to bear on the subject of refusing induction into the armed forces for reasons of conscience.
Covington was representing a Witness who would become a dear friend of mine in prison, a Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector who could afford his ten thousand dollar fee. Sam’s father owned several shoe stores in Oklahoma which Sam inherited upon release after his father died.
Sam himself died suddenly of a heart attack at a backyard barbecue after he had finished parole, married and carried on as a faithful JW.
The irony is this, most JW's ended up serving two years or more while Ali received NO prison time at all.
How did this help me?
When I was sentenced to SIX years (under the Youth Corrections Act) I entered jail in a situation where prisoners looked upon conscientious objectors through the lens of Muhammed Ali.
They already understood and did not automatically consider the matter a case of cowardice. That was a big help to me. The hard time JW's were given was less severe, I believe, because Ali was a strong masculine figure seemingly in the same situation.
I confess to being a boxing fan. As horrible as boxing is, it was the only "manly" sport I ever knew and shared with a male figure in my life, my Uncle Jack, when I was a boy.
Ali was outrageously self-promoting and played no small part in giving pre-Civil-Rights black communities a sense of public pride in his accomplishments and confrontational style.
He was simultaneously a complex personality sometimes badly manipulated by his mentors and an incredible hero to people of color all over planet Earth.
I'm sorry to hear of his death and his many years of suffering in silence when he was the most outspoken personality of modern times.