Just as prison reform activists celebrated the seemingly imminent discharge of an inmate whose incarceration has drawn international condemnation, a federal court halted his release.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay Tuesday of U.S. District Judge James Brady’s earlier decision to release Albert Woodfox – a ruling that buys time for Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s appeal of Brady’s order. Under the stay, Woodfox will remain incarcerated until at least Friday afternoon.
Caldwell says Woodfox is a killer who should remain locked up.
Woodfox is the last incarcerated inmate among the so-called Angola 3. He has maintained his innocence since 1972, when he was placed in solitary confinement after being charged in the death of a prison guard while inmates were protesting conditions inside the Louisiana State Penitentiary in April of that year. The prison farm is more commonly known as Angola and it is Louisiana’s only maximum-security prison.
Human rights experts have said that Woodfox’s 40-plus years in solitary confinement constitutes torture.
Woodfox and two other state prisoners became known as the Angola 3 because of their long stretches in solitary. Other members of the Angola 3 were prisoners Robert King and Herman Wallace.
Woodfox and Wallace, who were both serving unrelated armed robbery sentences, had said they were singled out for harsh treatment because of their political activism. Woodfox and Wallace were former Black Panthers who helped establish a prison chapter of the Black Panther Party at the Angola prison in 1971 and set up demonstrations and organized strikes for better conditions.
Wallace, convicted with Woodfox of murder in the death of guard Brent Miller, died in 2013 only days after a judge freed him and granted him a new trial. King was released in 2001 after his conviction in the death of a fellow inmate in 1973 was reversed.
Woodfox has been tried and convicted twice in the guard’s death, but both convictions were overturned. Brady said the “exceptional circumstances” of the case had led him to bar the state from seeking a third trial. In his ruling, he cited doubt that the state could provide a “fair third trial”; the inmate’s age and poor health; the unavailability of witnesses; “the prejudice done onto Mr. Woodfox by spending over forty years in solitary confinement,” and “the very fact that Mr. Woodfox has already been tried twice.”