A federal appeals court has ruled that inmate Albert Woodfox, a member of the “Angola Three" who has been in solitary confinement for more than four decades, can be tried a third time in a Louisiana court for the 1972 murder of a prison guard.
The 2-1 decision by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday reverses a U.S. district judge’s order back in June that Woodfox, 68, should be released immediately and that he couldn’t be put on trial again.
Woodfox was initially sent to Louisiana State Penitentiary (nicknamed “Angola”) in 1971 for armed robbery. During his stay, Woodfox and fellow inmates Herman Wallace and Robert King were all accused of murdering prison guard Brent Miller and consequently put in solitary confinement. Wallace and Woodfox were convicted. King was suspected but never charged in the murder. Woodfox had been convicted twice before for Miller’s stabbing murder but those decisions were overturned following claims of racial discrimination and misconduct by the prosecution.
Woodfox is the last member of the “Angola 3” still behind bars. King was released in 2001 after serving 29 years while Wallace was let go in 2013, but died of cancer just three days later.
Woodfox has long maintained his innocence while critics of the three men’s incarceration say the inmates were unfairly targeted for solitary confinement after joining the Black Panthers and trying to bring awareness to ongoing abuses at the jail.
Some state officials have taken issue with the notion that Woodfox has been in solitary confinement. Judge Carolyn Dineen King, in writing for the Court of Appeals on the latest decision, argued the district court has improperly assumed “state courts will not provide Woodfox with a fair retrial.”
Amnesty International senior campaigner Jasmine Heiss criticized the Court of Appeals decision. She said in a statement that the ruling means Woodfox who, according to the organization, has been held in an isolation cell the size of a parking space for four decades — “remains trapped in a nightmare — both by conditions of solitary confinement and by a deeply flawed legal process that has spanned four decades.”