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Louisiana AG ‘committed’ to keeping Angola 3 member Albert Woodfox imprisoned despite court ruling November 24, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Racism, Torture.
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Roger’s note: Albert Woodfox, unfairly tried and convicted, has served nearly all of his 42 imprisoned years in solitary confinement, 23 hours a day, seven days a week, fifty two weeks a year in a closet sized cell with no windows and a bare minimum of human contact.  During this time he has been subjected to multiple daily strip and cavity searches.  What this amounts to is state vengeance for his Black Panther political organization and human rights activities.  Multiply this by the thousands of American prisoners suffering the TORTURE of solitary confinement, and we see that we give the ISIS/ISIl and our allied Saudis a run for the money when it comes to outright barbarism.

 

Emily Lane, NOLA.com | The Times-PicayuneBy Emily Lane, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
Email the author | Follow on Twitter, November 22, 2014 at 11:33 AM, updated November 23, 2014 at 3:27 PM

 

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After four decades in solitary confinement in Louisiana prisons for a murder he and his supporters maintain he did not commit, Angola 3 member Albert Woodfox got news this week his release might soon be possible. A federal appeals court issued a ruling Thursday (Nov. 20) in which they agreed Woodfox’s conviction for the 1972 murder of a prison guard should be vacated.

But on Friday (Nov. 21), Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell suggested in a statement that the state plans to persist in its decades-long effort to keep Woodfox imprisoned for a previously ordered life sentence.

“We respectfully disagree with the Court’s ruling, and remain committed to seeing that the trial jury’s judgment finding Albert Woodfox guilty of murdering Officer Brent Miller is upheld,” Caldwell said.

Woodfox and another prisoner in the early 1970s at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Herman Wallace, who died last year days after his release from prison, were both implicated in Miller’s murder. Supporters of the Angola 3, though, say there was no physical evidence linking them to the crime. A bloody fingerprint at the scene matched neither of the men, according to International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. And supporters say the case’s only witness, a now-dead inmate, was promised favor in his case in exchange for his testimony against the men.

In 2008, Miller’s widow Leontine Verrett — a teenager at the time of her late husband’s murder — told The Los Angeles Times: “If I were on that jury, I don’t think I would have convicted them.”

Caldwell also said in his statement that “no court decision, including this one, has ever made a finding which disputes the fact that Albert Woodfox murdered Brent Miller at Angola in 1972. Those facts will always remain true.”

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal’s unanimous decision this week to uphold a District Court judge’s ruling to overturn Woodfox’s conviction was the third time a court has ruled to do so. The case was re-tried in 1998, and a jury again found Woodfox guilty after testimony of the deceased witness was read in court. It’s the 1998 conviction that the three-judge panel this week agreed should be vacated on the basis that Woodfox didn’t receive a fair trial because of racial discrimination in the selection of the grand jury foreperson.

Amnesty International, a major human rights organization, has called for Woodfox’s release since the ruling.

If the state moves on its commitment to try to uphold the conviction, it could be months or even years before the case is resolved.

Woodfox’s lawyer George Kendall said in an email, “It’s time for the case to come to an end.”

“This decision is fully consistent with decades of Supreme Court law,” he said of the ruling. “It is also consistent with our view that, because he is innocent, the only way for Louisiana to get that conviction was to violate the safeguards of a fair trial.”

At 67, Woodfox has spent nearly 43 years in prison for the conviction, “nearly all of it in solitary confinement, despite an overwhelmingly positive conduct record.”

His designation as a member of the Angola 3 stems from what Angola 3 supporters believe are wrongful convictions for prison murders in which Woodfox and two other prisoners were implicated for the purpose of silencing their activism. The International Coalition to Free the Angola 3 asserts the men essentially became political prisoners for organizing an official Black Panther Party chapter inside the prison, which led hunger strikes and other demonstrations opposing inhumane conditions inside the prison at Angola. Those conditions in the early 1970s at Angola included continued segregation, corruption and “systematic prison rape,” coalition manager Tory Pegram said.

Woodfox, who has moved facilities a number of times, remains incarcerated at David Wade Correctional Center in Homer. He is also seeking a restraining order against the state for daily strip and cavity searches by guards at the facility.

Wallace was released in October of last year, two days before his death from complications of liver cancer. He maintained his innocence in the murder until his death.

Robert King, the third member of the Angola 3 who was convicted of killing a fellow inmate, was exonerated and released from prison in 2001 after 29 years in solitary. King remains active in the campaign to release Woodfox from prison as well as ending the practice of solitary confinement, which is the subject of a civil suit involving the Angola 3.

King, who now lives in New Orleans and gives talks about his prison system experience, said despite the uncertainty of the action the state will take in response to the ruling, it’s an important, overdue step in a long process to secure Woodfox’s release.

“It’s been an uphill battle… but with this ruling, I think we have the wind at our back,” King said.

King said he was able to maintain his sanity, for the most part, while in solitary for all of those years by coming to understand — with the help of Wallace and Woodfox — that their struggle was “part of a bigger picture.” That bigger picture, he said, is painted by the country’s history with racism and injustice in the penal system.

“It kept me afloat — understanding why things were (as they were) with me and people who look like me,” King said.

King said he likes to think that Wallace, upon learning of the court’s recent ruling, would be smiling.

“We are just that much closer to Albert being released from prison,” King said. “One giant step toward that freedom.”

Woodfox, of New Orleans, was originally sentenced to prison at Angola on charges of armed robbery. That sentence would have expired decades ago, Pegram said. Woodfox was at Angola only a few years before he was implicated, along with Wallace, in Miller’s murder.

“At 67, Mr. Woodfox should be able to live of whatever life he has on this earth in peace,” Kendall, his attorney, said.

. . . . . .

Emily Lane is a news reporter based in Baton Rouge. Reach her atelane@nola.com or 504-717-7699. Follow her on Twitter (@emilymlane) orFacebook.

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