(BATON ROUGE, L.A.) – Albert Woodfox, 66, has spent more than half his life – 40 years – in a prison cell just three paces wide by four paces long.
Held for 23 hours a day in a small, starkly furnished cell, he is allowed out only to walk along the cell corridor, shower, or exercise alone. Woodfox has been deprived of access to work, rehabilitative programs, and group activity. As a consequence of these conditions, his physical and mental health has deteriorated.
Convicted in 1972 for the murder of prison guard Brent Miller, Woodfox has proclaimed his innocence and organizations including Amnesty International believe his case raises serious legal and human rights concerns.
A federal district court in Louisiana recently ruled that his conviction should be overturned. However, Louisiana Attorney General James Caldwell has said he would appeal the ruling.
Caldwell called Woodfox a “career criminal” who should remain behind bars. Amnesty International has urged the Attorney General not to appeal the District Court’s recent ruling.
“Enough is enough. After four decades, real justice in this case is long overdue.” said Tessa Murphy, campaigner at Amnesty International. “The ruling by the federal district court should be allowed to stand.”
The case paints a disturbing picture of justice in Louisiana.
In 2008, the same federal district court issued a ruling that overturned Woodfox’s conviction though he remained in prison pending the bail hearing.
During this time, the Attorney General’s office emailed the neighbors of Woodfox’s niece, to whom he was intended to be released on bail, to advise them that that her uncle was a violent rapist and convicted murderer. He urged the neighbors to sign petitions to oppose his release.
When the federal district court subsequently ordered that Woodfox be released on bail, the judge criticized the Attorney General’s intimidation campaign. Despite the bail order, Woodfox remained in prison following another intervention by the Attorney General who appealed this recommendation to a higher court.
Caldwell has recently renewed his public attacks, circulating allegations about Woodfox's alleged criminal activities in the 1960s, linking him to unsolved rapes and sexual assaults, and insisting that the state's murder case against Woodfox is “very strong.”
Setting the record straight
Woodfox has never been tried or convicted of rape. Nor, after 41 years in prison, does his disciplinary record indicate that he is dangerous or violent. The prison system’s own mental health assessments indicate that he does not pose a threat to himself or others.
He has been tried twice for the murder of Brent Miller. The first conviction was overturned and Woodfox was retried and reconvicted. That conviction was overturned and then reinstated on appeal. Now this latest ruling overturns the conviction again. The inconsistencies and flaws in the legal process led Brent Miller’s widow to call for a new investigation into the case in 2008.
At the original trial, the conviction relied heavily on testimony from Hezekiah Brown – the only witness to testify to actually seeing Woodfox commit the murder – as well as statements from four other fellow inmates.
There was no physical evidence linking Woodfox to the crime. DNA evidence that was potentially favorable to the defendant has been lost – a bloody fingerprint found close to the body didn’t match any of the four defendants, and no attempt has been made by the state or prison officials to identify it through the prison fingerprint database.
Evidence has emerged since Hezekiah Brown’s death in 1996 that in return for his testimony, he had received benefits from the state – including immediate transfer from the prison to a cottage on the grounds and a weekly ration of a carton of cigarettes.
For more than 10 years, the warden petitioned repeatedly for a pardon for Brown, which was finally granted in 1986. According to a magistrate judge who reviewed the case in 2008, Brown’s testimony was “so critical to [the prosecution’s] case that without it there would probably be no case.”
Two of the four eyewitnesses who testified to Woodfox’s involvement in the crime have since recanted their testimony. Of the remaining witnesses, one was legally blind and the other was heavily medicated at the time of the murder.
For more information please see: “USA: 100 Years in Solitary: ‘The Angola 3’ and their Fight for Justice”
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Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists, and volunteers 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.