U.S. court to weigh release of last 'Angola 3' inmate in Louisiana

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 02, 2015 1:03 AM

By Kathy Finn

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - A federal appeals court in Louisiana on Wednesday will consider whether to release the last of the so-called Angola Three prisoners, a man who spent most of four decades in solitary confinement.

Albert Woodfox, 68, remains in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, the last of three men whose lengthy stays in isolation drew international attention to conditions at the prison in Angola. The other two were released.

Louisiana state prosecutors have argued that Woodfox should remain confined out of respect for the family of Brent Miller, a white prison guard he was accused of murdering in 1972.

Woodfox appears to have served one of the longest stretches in solitary confinement in U.S. penal history, according to his attorney George Kendall. He spent most of the time in a cell measuring roughly 6 feet by 8 feet (1.8 meters by 2.4 meters).

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans agreed to hear his case in June when it temporarily granted Louisiana's request to block Woodfox's release.

He appeared close to freedom days before, when a U.S. district judge ordered his release based in part on the overturning of his two previous convictions in Miller's killing.

Courts found both convictions flawed by grand jury issues. The second one was thrown out in 2014 by the same federal appeals court, which cited evidence that racial discrimination may have tainted the selection of a grand jury foreperson.

Louisiana Attorney General James "Buddy" Caldwell in February indicted Woodfox for a third time on the murder charge and he has remained in prison without bail.

He and a co-defendant, Herman Wallace, were imprisoned on an armed robbery charge in 1971. They maintained their innocence in Miller's murder and said they were charged in retaliation for founding a prison chapter of the Black Panthers Party and organizing inmate protests.

Both received life sentences, however, and were placed in solitary confinement.

The other Angola Three inmate, Robert King, was accused of killing a fellow inmate. He was released from prison in 2001.

Wallace won his freedom in October 2013 after a federal judge overturned his conviction. He died of liver cancer three days later.

Woodfox suffers from heart disease, renal failure and hepatitis C, his attorney, George Kendall, has said.

"There is no reason other than vengeance for the Louisiana Attorney General to prolong his incarceration," Amnesty International USA said on Tuesday.

(Editing by Letitia Stein and Doina Chiacu)