(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – On the eve of a federal court of appeals hearing on the case of Albert Woodfox, Amnesty International USA is calling on authorities in Louisiana to immediately release Woodfox from prison where he has spent over four decades in solitary confinement.
"Louisiana cannot extend the abuses and injustice against Albert Woodfox another day," said Steven W. Hawkins, executive director, Amnesty International USA. "Louisiana authorities are leading a campaign of vengeance instead of upholding justice. Keeping Woodfox in solitary confinement for over four decades is a dark stain on human rights in the United States and globally. Louisiana must withdraw its legal appeal and allow the federal court ruling to stand. Should this not occur, the Court of Appeal should rule in the interests of justice and pave the way for Albert Woodfox's release."
On January 7, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals (the federal court that oversees appeals in Louisiana and other states) will rule whether to uphold a federal district judge's ruling issued last February that overturned Woodfox's conviction. The state of Louisiana has appealed asking for the federal court to reinstate the sentence.
"The state of Louisiana's action is not in the interests of justice," said Tessa Murphy, USA campaigner at Amnesty International. "Its insistence on keeping Albert Woodfox behind bars after decades in solitary confinement amounts to a campaign of vengeance, paid with taxpayers' money. The conviction has been overturned three times in what is a deeply flawed case, yet Louisiana has opposed every remedy ordered by the courts."
Albert Woodfox was placed in solitary confinement over 41 years ago in Louisiana State Penitentiary, known to many as "Angola." During this time, he has been confined to a small cell for 23 hours a day, denied access to meaningful social interaction and rehabilitation programs.
Prison records show that Woodfox has not committed any serious disciplinary infractions for decades and that he doesn't pose a threat to himself or others.
He and Herman Wallace were both convicted of the 1972 murder of prison guard Brent Miller. There was no physical evidence to link them to the crime and their convictions relied primarily on the dubious testimony of a sole eyewitness who received favorable treatment, and was eventually pardoned, 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.
Both men robustly denied any involvement in the crime. They believe they were falsely implicated in the murder because of their political activism in prison as members of the Black Panther Party.
Herman Wallace was released in October 2013 just days before he died of liver cancer. A federal judge overturned his conviction on the basis of the systematic exclusion of women from the grand jury during his 1974 trial.
"A remedy to the injustice inflicted on Albert Woodfox by the state is long overdue," said Murphy. "Herman Wallace gained his freedom only to die within days. Justice must not again be so cruelly delayed."
After the death of Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox's co-defendant in the "Angola 3" case, Amnesty International launched a campaign calling on the state of Louisiana to release Albert Woodfox from prison by means of withdrawing its appeal against the U.S. District Court's ruling.
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.