Louisiana Must Release Dying Prisoner After Judge Overturns 1974 Conviction

Press Release
October 1, 2013

Louisiana Must Release Dying Prisoner After Judge Overturns 1974 Conviction

Herman Wallace, One of "Angola 3," Spent 41 Years in Solitary Confinement

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150, @AIUSAmedia

(NEW YORK) - Amnesty International USA issued the following comments today from Steven W. Hawkins, executive director, in response to the U.S. District Court decision overturning the 1974 murder conviction of Herman Wallace, among the Angola 3 prisoners, in Louisiana:

"We welcome the court's ruling overturning Herman Wallace's original murder conviction and ordering his immediate release from state custody. Tragically, this step toward justice has come as Herman is dying from cancer with only days or hours left to live. No ruling can erase the cruel, inhuman and degrading prison conditions he endured for more than 41 years - confined alone to a tiny cell for 23 hours a day. Judge Jackson's decision to overturn Herman Wallace's conviction underscores Amnesty's long-held concerns about the original legal process that resulted in his imprisonment. The state must act immediately to release Wallace and remove Albert Woodfox from more than four decades of solitary confinement."

The Case

Wallace and Woodfox were convicted for the murder of prison guard Brent Miller. Amnesty International has repeatedly expressed concern that many legal aspects of this case are troubling: no physical evidence links Woodfox and Wallace to the murder, potentially exculpatory DNA evidence was lost by the state, and their conviction was based on questionable testimony - some of which was subsequently retracted by witnesses.

In recent years, evidence has emerged that the main eyewitness was bribed by prison officials into giving statements against the men. Throughout their incarceration, Woodfox and Wallace were denied any meaningful review of the reasons for being kept in isolation. They believed that they were placed in solitary to punish them for being members of the Black Panther Party in Angola Prison and organizing prisoners to demand better conditions and fairer treatment. Amnesty International has repeatedly campaigned to have them removed from prolonged isolation, which constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

According to his lawyers, Herman received substandard medical care both before and after his diagnosis, including delaying potential life-extending chemotherapy treatment. In 2007, a federal judge ruled that the conditions under which both Woodfox and Wallace were being held constituted a deprivation of a basic human need and that prison officials should have been aware that such treatment could be seriously harmful to the physical and mental health of prisoners. Today, Albert Woodfox remains in solitary confinement, despite the fact that his conviction has been overturned three times.

Read Amnesty International's June 2011 report on the case, "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.