(BATON ROUGE, La.) - Amnesty International USA today delivered more than 25,000 petition signatures from supporters throughout the U.S. and globally to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, demanding the immediate release of the last "Angola 3" prisoner Albert Woodfox. The human rights organization says after 38 years of "cruel, abusive" solitary confinement and a deeply flawed trial, the state cannot justify holding him one more day.
Boxes of petitions signed by 25,199 people around the world were carried inside the Capitol to Jindal’s office. More than half of the signatures were collected in the week after Herman Wallace, among the Angola 3, died on Oct. 4, three days after he was released from prison on a judge's order.
At a press conference on the steps of the State Capitol in Baton Rouge, Amnesty activists and campaigners were joined by Robert King, the first freed member of the Angola 3; Michael Mable, Albert Woodfox's brother; and Rev. Dr. Patricia Bates, of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and the United Methodist Church. Statements were read from U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., and State Rep. Patricia Haynes Smith.
Amnesty International is asking Gov. Jindal to withdraw the state's latest appeal against a third court ruling last February that overturned Woodfox's conviction, to remove him from solitary confinement and to release him from prison.
Amnesty International USA Executive Director Steven W. Hawkins said: "We must not tolerate this continued cruelty by the state of Louisiana another day. After decades of holding him in abusive conditions, based on a flawed murder conviction, the only just and humane action the state can take is to free Albert immediately."
"For Amnesty International, one of the bitterest pills we have swallowed was the death of Herman Wallace on Oct. 4- just three days after he was freed from prison after being held in solitary confinement for more than 41 years," said Hawkins. "Herman Wallace died a free man but his freedom was short-lived and nothing could erase the abuse he suffered. That suffering must end now for Woodfox."
Woodfox has insisted he is innocent of the murder, as Wallace did. No physical evidence linked the men to the crime. The testimony of the main eyewitness has been discredited and potentially exculpatory DNA evidence has been lost.
Woodfox and Wallace have maintained they were falsely implicated because they organized a prison chapter of the Black Panther Party and worked to desegregate the prison, end systematic rape and violence and demanded better living conditions for the prisoners.
"Holding a man with no human contact in a cell the size of a parking space for 38 years is simply depraved," said Jasmine Heiss, Amnesty USA campaigner. "Albert maintains, as do all of the Angola 3, that he continues to be punished for organizing against injustice inside Angola as a member of the Black Panther Party. It is clear that, were it not for the state’s dogged determination to pursue vengeance rather than justice, Albert Woodfox would be a free man.
"We are here today representing tens of thousands of people from around the world who are calling for Albert Woodfox’s release," said Heiss. "We are calling on Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, Secretary James LeBlanc, and Governor Bobby Jindal to stop standing in the way of justice."
Rep. Richmond, in his statement, wrote: "I am firm in my resolve to continue to fight to address the horrors of long term solitary confinement. The plight of the Angola 3 has shined a disinfecting light on this terrible unconstitutional practice of indefinite solitary confinement without meaningful due process reviews."
Following Wallace's death, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., paid tribute to him and his fellow prisoners in the Congressional Record. Conyers said Wallace’s "greatest hope was that his case would help ensure that others, especially Albert Woodfox, would not continue to suffer the cruel and unusual confinement that he had suffered."
The decision by prison authorities to hold the Angola 3 in solitary confinement has never been reviewed in any meaningful way and prison records showed no serious disciplinary infractions by the men for decades, nor did mental health records indicate that they posed a threat to themselves or others.
The United Nations special rapporteur Juan Mendez has described the long term solitary confinement that Woodfox has endured as torture.
Read the attached Amnesty International background briefing on the case.
Read Amnesty International’s report,"100 Years in Solitary Confinement: the Angola 3 and Their Fight for Justice"
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 to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.