[Ppnews] Angola death case hinges on ’63 ruling

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Aug 4 18:08:56 EDT 2008

Inside Report for August 1, 2008


Angola death case hinges on '63 ruling
    * Advocate staff writer
    * Published: Aug 1, 2008 - Page: 7B - UPDATED: 12:05 a.m.

In 1972, corrections officer Brent Miller was stabbed to death at the 
Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

For the next 36 years, inmate Albert Woodfox was held in solitary 
confinement, a period during which he twice was convicted for the 
murder of the 23-year-old officer.

Woodfox, sent to Angola on an armed robbery conviction, was released 
from solitary earlier this year and sent to the prison's maximum 
security unit, where he remains.

In July, U.S. District Judge James J. Brady overturned his 
conviction. The state Attorney General's Office said it will appeal 
the decision.

Surely, Woodfox loyalists celebrated Brady's decision, which was 
based on a recommendation from U.S. Magistrate Christine Noland.

Surely, people convinced of Woodfox's guilt in the slaying grumbled 
and griped because Brady agreed with Noland's conclusion that the 
inmate's defense attorneys provided ineffective assistance in his 
second murder trial.

Paul R. Baier, a professor at LSU's Paul M. Hebert Law Center, was in 
neither camp.

Baier sees the judges' actions as a means to force the legal system 
to work in accordance with the U.S. Supreme Court's 1963 decision in 
Brady v. Maryland. In that case, another guy named Brady was 
convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

But the Brady in that murder case had asked prosecutors prior to 
trial for copies of any statements made by his co-defendant in the 
case. And the prosecutors withheld the statement in which the 
co-defendant admitted he had actually committed the murder.

The high court threw out Brady's death sentence. Justices said "The 
suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused 
upon request violates due process where the evidence is material 
either to guilt or to punishment." They added: "Society wins not only 
when the guilty are convicted but when criminal trials are fair; our 
system of the administration of justice suffers when any accused is 
treated unfairly."

In the Woodfox case, Noland said Woodfox's defense attorneys should 
have objected to the testimony of several prosecution witnesses in 
1998, during his second trial. That included the transcribed 
testimony of an inmate eyewitness from the original trial in 1973. 
Hezekiah Brown, serving a life sentence for aggravated rape, first 
told prison officials he was not at the scene of Miller's slaying. 
But that initial statement was withheld from Woodfox, Noland said, as 
was the fact that officials promised to help Brown win release from 
his life term.

Brown, who was pardoned in 1986, testified at Woodfox's first trial 
and said Woodfox took part in Miller's slaying. Brown died before 
Woodfox's second trial in 1998. But Brown's 1973 testimony was read 
to the second jury.

After Judge Brady overturned Woodfox's conviction, one of the 
inmate's current attorneys, Nicholas J. Trenticosta, of New Orleans, 
said Noland had concluded in her recommendation: "This guy is 
probably innocent."

That's not exactly what Noland said.

She noted that "without Brown's testimony, the prosecution had 
essentially no evidence directly linking Woodfox to the crime."

And the original jury never heard about Brown's conflicting statements.

LSU's Baier said the 1963 Supreme Court decision in Brady v. Maryland 
remains important because it "requires the state to tell the defense 
counsel about exculpatory information (that can benefit a defendant)."

Baier said many problems could have been avoided in 1973 if Woodfox 
had been told of Brown's initial statements and the promises made to 
him by prison officials. Baier didn't hesitate to add: "I think Judge 
Noland and Judge Brady are doing fine work."

Bill Lodge covers federal court for The Advocate. He can be reachedat 
blodge at theadvocate.com.

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