Inmate Albert Woodfox is in poor health, made worse by the fact that he’s been in solitary confinement for 40 years, a sentence that advocates say amounts to torture.
But now a federal judge has granted the 68-year-old man his freedom, while the state of Louisiana tries to keep him behind bars for the 1972 death of a prison guard, the Associated Press reported. Trouble is, they’ve tried to convict him twice — and failed both times.
Prosecutors are revving up for a third trial, but the judge has not only freed him, he’s prohibited the state from continuing. Despite that ruling, the attorney general will appeal “to make sure this murderer stays in prison and remains fully accountable for his actions.”
But the court has determined that the state won’t be able to provide a “fair third trial,” due to his age and poor health, the fact that no witnesses remain to testify, and “the prejudice done onto Mr. Woodfox by spending over forty years in solitary confinement,” and “the very fact that (he) has already been tried twice.”
Albert has spent 40 years of his life behind bars, he claims, because of his affiliation with the Black Panther Party and his attempts to improve conditions at Angola. He rallied fellow inmates to perform demonstrations and strikes.
Albert was serving a sentence there for robbery. Then, in 1972, white prison guard Brent Miller was murdered and Woodfox and co-defendant Herman Wallace were fingered and convicted for his death. They and fellow inmate Robert King were all given life sentences and put in solitary, Reuters added.
They became known as the Angola 3.
The other two have been released. King served nearly three decades in solitary and was released in 2001; his conviction was reversed. Wallace died three days after his release at age 71, in 2013.
Despite spending 40 years in jail, advocates say Albert is innocent. And the judge, in his ruling, appeared to support such a claim, the Los Angeles Times added.
“There is no valid conviction holding him in prison, let alone solitary confinement. (Furthermore), there was an abundance of physical evidence available at the crime scene in 1972, but not one piece of physical evidence incriminated Mr. Woodfox.”
And if he’s is innocent, the fact that he spent 40 years in solitary confinement is a travesty, say human rights advocates. Amnesty International campaigner Jasmine Heiss told the AP that his release is a “momentous step toward justice.”
“(He) has been trapped in a legal process riddled with flaws. The only humane action that the Louisiana authorities can take now is to ensure his immediate release.”
That especially rings true when one considers the conditions. Imagine this for 40 years: A 9-by-6-foot space, with only one hour outside, three times per week, and just a TV for company. Wallace described the experience in 2012.
“I can make about four steps forward before I touch the door. If I turn an about-face, I’m going to bump into something. I’m used to it, and that’s one of the bad things about it.”
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