(WASHINGTON, DC) —Yesterday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Louisiana affirmed a 2013 ruling overturning the conviction of Albert Woodfox of the ‘Angola 3.’ He is imprisoned for the second-degree murder of a prison guard in 1972, though he maintains his innocence. Amnesty International has raised serious human rights concerns over the case for many years and applauds this latest development– though it comes after decades of injustice.
The state of Louisiana had immediately appealed the 2013 ruling, and Albert languished in solitary for nearly two years, until the appeals court’s decision, yesterday.
“Albert Woodfox has endured the unthinkable. For more than four decades he has survived in conditions the UN’s top expert on torture has said can amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” said Jasmine Heiss, Senior Campaigner at Amnesty International USA. “The Fifth Circuit’s ruling in Albert’s favor only adds more weight to our call on the State of Louisiana to stop standing in the way of Albert Woodfox’s freedom. It is time for Albert Woodfox to walk free, and it is unconscionable to hold him for a single day longer.”
The three-judge panel affirmed that Albert Woodfox did not receive a fair trial in 1998 because of discrimination in the selection of the grand jury foreperson. They upheld the findings of Judge James Brady of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, that the state had failed to show “racially neutral” reasons to explain the under- representation of African-Americans selected as grand jury foreperson during this period.
Albert Woodfox has spent over 40 years in solitary confinement fighting to prove his innocence in a legal process tainted with flaws.
In February 2013, a federal judge ruled that Albert Woodfox’s conviction for the murder of the guard should be overturned due to a finding of racial discrimination in the selection of his grand jury foreperson. This was the third time a court has ruled to overturn his conviction.
In 1972, Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace, two black men, were convicted of the murder of a white prison guard at Louisiana’s infamous “Angola” prison. The two were sentenced to life imprisonment and placed in solitary confinement shortly after the murder, as was a third man named Robert King. Together, Woodfox, Wallace and King became known as the “Angola 3.” The men spent 23 hours a day isolated in a small cell, four steps long and three steps across, with no access to meaningful social interaction or rehabilitation. King was released in 2001. Wallace was released in October 2013 when his conviction was overturned by a federal judge. He died of liver cancer just three days later.
There was no physical evidence linking the men to the crime and potentially exculpatory evidence was “lost” by the state. Their convictions relied primarily on the dubious testimony of a sole eyewitness who received favorable treatment and was eventually pardoned in return for his testimony. The case against them was based on flawed evidence and riddled with procedural errors that have been extensively documented over the years.
The men maintain that they were put in solitary confinement in retaliation for their work organizing their fellow prisoners against segregation and abuses in the prison and for their membership in the Black Panther party.
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Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million members in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works