Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 212-633-4150, @AIUSAmedia
(Washington)– Amnesty International USA issued the following comments today from Steven Hawkins, executive director, upon learning of the death of Herman Wallace in Louisiana:
'Today is a very sad day for the family and friends of Herman Wallace and for those who spent so many years working toward his freedom. We at Amnesty International offer our condolences to his loved ones. Herman died three days after a judge overturned his conviction and the state of Louisiana released him to hospice care, as he suffered from liver cancer. The state put this man through hell. While he died knowing he was free, this did not mitigate the unjustifiable decades he endured of cruel and inhuman solitary confinement. From a flawed conviction in 1974, through more than 41 years of confinement in degrading conditions, to a belated terminal diagnosis, Wallace’s treatment at the hands of the state was marked at every turn by a fundamental disregard for his human rights.
'To compound the injustice Wallace was denied meaningful review of the reasons behind his confinement, which itself was a flagrant violation of international standards for the treatment of prisoners. And Thursday night, the state only compounded the flawed justice by re-indicting Herman for murder. Nothing can undo the authorities' shocking treatment of this man, which led more than 200,000 people to act on his behalf. The state of Louisiana must now prevent further inhuman treatment by removing Wallace's co-defendant Albert Woodfox from solitary confinement.'
Background on Amnesty's Work on the Angola 3 Case:
Amnesty International has for years campaigned for Wallace to be released from isolation. And more recently, after he was diagnosed with liver cancer, to be released from prison to spend his last days with his loved ones.
An African-American, he was convicted in 1974 of the murder of a prison guard, Brent Miller, by an all-white male jury. No DNA evidence linked him to the crime, not even the knife or the bloody prints found at the scene. The testimony of the main witness was later revealed to have been bought by the state in return for favors, including a pardon.
Based on the strength of prosecutorial misconduct and on constitutional violations, a state judicial Commissioner recommended, in 2006, reversing Wallace's conviction, but the Louisiana Supreme Court denied his appeal without comment.
In 2009, Herman Wallace sought review of his case by the federal courts. Tuesday's ruling overturned his conviction on the basis of the systematic exclusion of women from the grand jury that indicted him for the murder in 1973. This is one of many irregularities that have been raised in the case.
Immediately following the murder, Herman Wallace was placed in solitary confinement confined in this tiny space for 23 hours a day. He was denied access to meaningful social interaction, work opportunities, education and rehabilitation programmes. During his 41 years in solitary confinement he was only allowed out of his cell for seven hours a week, which he would spend showering or in solitary recreation. Under international law, these conditions amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
Amnesty International knows of only one other person in the US who has been held for longer under such harsh conditions.
The decision by prison authorities to keep Herman Wallace in isolation could not have been based on his behavior, as prison records demonstrate that he had not committed any serious disciplinary infractions for decades, and his mental health records indicate that he posed no threat to himself or others.
Wallace has consistently claimed he was innocent of the murder of Brent Miller and was falsely implicated for his political activism in prison as a member of the Black Panther Party.
Before being diagnosed with liver cancer in June, Wallace's living conditions had already affected his physical and psychological health. In 2007 a federal judge ruled that the conditions under which he was 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.
This past June, following a late diagnosis that only came after he had lost over 50 pounds in weight, Wallace was moved from isolation to a medium security dormitory in the prison infirmary. According to his lawyers both before and after his diagnosis he received substandard medical care from the prison authorities.
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 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.