CAIN BURDEAU, Associated Press
KEVIN McGILL, Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Prosecutors sought to keep the last of the “Angola Three,” Albert Woodfox, behind bars Tuesday despite a federal judge’s order to immediately release him after 43 years in isolation behind bars.
U.S. District Judge James Brady said Monday in a strongly worded ruling that Woodfox, now 68, must be freed and not face a third trial in the stabbing death of a prison guard in 1972, when inmates were protesting conditions inside the Louisiana State Penitentiary.
“The only just remedy is an unconditional writ of habeas corpus barring retrial of Mr. Albert Woodfox and releasing Mr. Woodfox from custody immediately,” Brady insisted.
But state officials weren’t giving up Tuesday, filing a notice of appeal with the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and planning to request an emergency stay to prevent his release.
The federal judge is trying to “set free a twice-convicted murderer,” said Aaron Sadler, a spokesman for Louisiana Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell.
Sadler called Brady’s ruling a “free pass” to freedom “based on faulty procedural issues.”
Both of Woodfox’s convictions were overturned due to racial prejudice and lack of evidence.
Outside the West Feliciana Parish Detention Center, where Woodfox was being held pending his third trial, sheriff’s spokeswoman Erin Foster said state officials had until 2 p.m. to file their paperwork: “We just have to wait and see.”
In his ruling, Brady cited doubt that the state could provide a “fair third trial”; the inmate’s age and poor health; the unavailability of witnesses; “the prejudice done onto Mr. Woodfox by spending over forty years in solitary confinement,” and “the very fact that Mr. Woodfox has already been tried twice” before his convictions were overturned.
Amnesty International and the United Nations have condemned Woodfox’s imprisonment as inhumane. Human rights advocates contend his solitary confinement is a form of torture.
Jasmine Heiss, a senior campaigner with Amnesty International USA, called Brady’s ruling “a momentous step toward justice,” and that Woodfox has been “trapped in a legal process riddled with flaws.”
“Mr. Woodfox has spent 40 years in solitary confinement under constitutionally invalid convictions,” said his lawyers George Kendall and Carine Williams. “We look forward to Mr. Woodfox going home to his family; getting much needed medical attention; and living the remainder of his days in peace.”
Tory Pegram of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3 said she spoke with Woodfox late Monday.
“He’s excited and nervous,” she said.
Woodfox was one of several prisoners accused of killing of Brent Miller, a 23-year-old guard at the prison. A year earlier, Woodfox and Herman Wallace helped establish a prison chapter of the Black Panther Party, while Robert King helped establish a Black Panther chapter in the New Orleans prison.
All three were active in hunger strikes and work stoppages that spurred improvements to prison conditions, and all three suffered harsh treatment thereafter as prison authorities kept them isolated at Angola to prevent more disruption behind bars.
Wallace died last fall, days after a judge freed him and granted him a new trial. King has become a public speaker since his release in 2001 after the reversal of his conviction in the death of a fellow inmate in 1973.
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