[Pnews] Albert Woodfox - case of last imprisoned member of Angola 3 again headed to 5th Circuit
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jan 7 10:53:56 EST 2014
Murder case of last imprisoned member of Angola 3 again headed to 5th
<http://connect.nola.com/user/lmcgaughy/index.html>By Lauren McGaughy,
NOLA.com | The Times Picayune
on January 06, 2014 at 9:59 PM, updated January 07, 2014 at 4:44 AM
For the second time in three years, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals
will decide whether Angola
<http://topics.nola.com/tag/angola/index.html> 3 member Albert Woodfox
deserves another retrial for his now decades-old murder conviction of
prison guard Brent Miller.
Woodfox's case spans four decades and three courts, during which time he
has been reconvicted once and has had the conviction overturned three
times, twice by the same judge in the past few years. But while the
case's history is complex, the legal arguments to be heard by the three
New Orleans-area appellate judges on Tuesday are fairly narrow.
Woodfox's attorneys, hailing from as near as St. Charles Avenue in New
Orleans and as far away as Los Angeles, will argue that Woodfox did not
receive a fair trial the second time around because the process by which
Woodfox was charged by the grand jury was discriminatory, in that the
Grand Jury foreperson did not represent the racial makeup of the parish
in question, in this case West Feliciana. Woodfox is black. The grand
jury foreperson was white. Woodfox's attorneys have presented data that
they argue shows a pattern of discriminatory grand jury foreperson
selection in West Feliciana over several years.
The state will argue Woodfox has been twice convicted of Miller's murder
-- in 1974 and 1998 -- adding the state court heard Woodfox's
discrimination claim in his second trial and decided it had no merit.
Woodfox and fellow Angola inmate Herman Wallace were convicted in
separate trials by all-white juries of the 1972 brutal stabbing of
Miller, a young and popular guard at the state penitentiary also known
The incident occurred during a particularly tumultuous time in the
prison's history, when rape and violence were rampant and relations
between the all-white cadre of guards and the inmates they oversaw were
After their convictions, Woodfox and Wallace continued to maintain their
innocence and stated their implication in the murder was in retribution
for starting the prison's first Black Panther chapter. The two soon
found themselves in permanent lockdown, spending at least 23 hours a day
in solitary confinement for more than four decades.
A third inmate, Robert Hillary King (formerly Wilkerson), was also key
in forming the chapter. Soon after he came to Angola, he was convicted
of murdering a fellow inmate and also incarcerated in solitary
confinement, defined as a 6' x 9' single-occupancy cell with extremely
limited, sometimes no, access to anyone but prison staff.
Lost for years in the system, the three inmates were unknown to the
wider world until the early 1990s, when former Black Panther Malik Rahim
publicized how long Woodfox, Wallace and King had been held in solitary
confinement. They soon became known as the Angola 3.
While King was offered a plea deal and released in 2001 after 29 years
in solitary, Wallace spent nearly 42 years in lockdown before a district
judge overturned his sentence and ordered his release
in October. He was reindicted the next day, but died three days later
of advanced liver cancer.
Woodfox is the only member of the Angola 3 still behind bars. He has
been kept in solitary, what the state calls "closed-cell restriction"
for 42 years, a practice criticized by Amnesty International
and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, who called it
under international human rights law.
Woodfox's 1974 murder conviction was first overturned in 1992 by a state
court due to "systemtic discrimination." He was then reindicted in 1993
by a new grand jury and reconvicted five years later.
But District Court Judge James J. Brady overturned this second
conviction in 2008, stating Woodfox's defense counsel was ineffective.
The state appealed
and the case made its way for the first time to the 5th Circuit.
Once there, the court reversed Brady's ruling and determined that while
his trial "was not perfect," Woodfox couldn't prove there would have
been a different outcome with different counsel.
Woodfox's attorneys then focused in on the discrimination issue, arguing
there were also issues with the 1993 indictment because black grand jury
foreman were woefully underrepresented in West Feliciana Parish in the
previous 13 years.
Brady again agreed, overturning Woodfox's conviction a second time in
May 2012. The case was kicked up to the 5th Circuit after the state
While the outcome for Woodfox's counsel in previous years has not been
especially successful, the team remained hopeful ahead of Tuesday's hearing.
"The case (has) a tremendous, extraordinary history to it and one that
Albert has always maintained his innocence," said George Kendall, a
member of Woodfox's legal team. "The law is very solidly in our corner."
Oral arguments will be heard at 9 a.m. in Room 209 of the John Minor
Wisdom United States Court of Appeals Building at 600 Camp Street.
Each side will be limited to 20 minutes for oral argument. Read the
appellate brief filed by the state of Louisiana by clicking here
Read the appellate brief for Albert Woodfox by clicking here
*. . . . . . .*
/Lauren McGaughy <http://connect.nola.com/user/lmcgaughy/posts.html> is
a state politics reporter based in Baton Rouge
<http://www.nola.com/baton-rouge/>. She can be reached at
lmcgaughy at nola.com or on Twitter at @lmcgaughy
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
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