The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit blocked the release of Louisiana prisoner Albert Woodfox on Friday. Woodfox, who was charged with murdering a prison guard in 1972, is the last member of the so called Angola Three: a group of three African American prisoners jailed in the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. The 68-year-old has served nearly 43 years in prison and has spent the most time in solitary confinement than any other prisoner in the United States.
According to reports by the New York Times, Woodfox was initially set to be immediately released after Judge James J. Brady of United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana handed down a ruling on Monday that secured Woodfox’s release and prevented the state of Louisiana from putting him back on trial again. Brady cited Woodfox’s poor health and the inadequacy of substantive evidence and living witnesses to the crime as the primary reasons for preventing a retrial. In the previous two trials conducted, both murder convictions were overturned by the court.
Brady’s ruling, however, was overturned once the state attorney general, Buddy Caldwell, appealed the decision to the higher U.S. Court of Appeals and the judges ruled that Woodfox would temporarily continue to stay in solitary confinement until at least late August.
Both Woodfox’s attorneys are continuing in their fight to challenge the court’s ruling and secure the prisoner’s release.
“We will continue to challenge the right of the state to hold Mr. Woodfox, an elderly man in failing health, in the harshest possible solitary confinement conditions and work to get the medical care he urgently needs at a proper medical facility.”
Reuters reports that after spending more than 40 years in solitary confinement in a 6-foot by 8-foot prison cell for 23 hours a day, Woodfox currently suffers from severe debilitating diseases including heart disease, renal failure, and hepatitis C.
Woodfox has continued to plead his innocence, believing that the Louisiana courts charged him with the murder of the white prison guard, Brent Miller, because of his race and his affiliation with the radical Black Panther Party, which advocated for black freedom and self defense at the height of the civil rights movement.
The other two members of the Angola Three were also charged with their affiliation with the Black Panther Party, but both Herman Wallace and Robert King were released in 2013 and 2001, respectively.
After blocking the release of Woodfox, the U.S. Court of Appeals must now wait to hear the state’s argument supporting Judge Brady’s decision in denying another retrial for the murder of Brent Miller.