By Letitia Stein
(Reuters) - After spending decades in solitary confinement, the last of the Louisiana prisoners known as the "Angola Three" hopes to find out on Friday if a federal court will set him free, even as the state fights to keep him incarcerated for the murder of a prison guard.
Albert Woodfox, a 68-year-old who was a Black Panther Party activist in his youth, has spent more time in isolation than nearly every other inmate in U.S. history. He has served most of his 43 years in Louisiana's infamous Angola prison in a 6 foot by 8 foot (1.8 meters by 2.4 meters) cell, according to his attorney.
U.S. District Judge James Brady ordered his release earlier this week, noting that Woodfox's convictions for the 1972 murder of a white prison guard were overturned twice.
Noting his age and declining health, and lack of available witnesses, Brady barred the state from seeking a third retrial.
Louisiana Attorney General James "Buddy" Caldwell appealed the decision to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which stayed Woodfox's release until Friday at 1 p.m. Central Time.
Woodfox is the last of three black men who spent decades in isolation at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.
Known as the Angola Three, the inmates said they were targeted for joining the Black Panther Party and advocating for prison reforms.
Woodfox suffers from heart disease, renal failure and Hepatitis C, said his attorney, George Kendall.
If released, he plans to live in the New Orleans area.
"Albert is tired but hopeful," Kendall said in an email on Friday morning.
Human rights advocates have campaigned for his release. In a statement this week, Amnesty International said "this 68-year-old man has suffered intolerably cruel treatment in prison."
Woodfox was initially imprisoned on an armed robbery charge. He and a co-defendant, Herman Wallace, have steadfastly maintained their innocence in the slaying of the guard.
Wallace, who spent nearly 42 years in isolation, won his freedom in October 2013 after a federal judge overturned his conviction. He died of liver cancer three days later.
A third man known for his lengthy solitary confinement, Robert King, was accused of killing a fellow inmate in 1973. His conviction was overturned and he was released from prison in 2001 after he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.
(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Lisa Lambert)