[Pnews] 'I just want to see justice': Albert Woodfox's supporters worry he can't get a fair trial
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Sep 22 15:23:06 EDT 2015
'I just want to see justice': Albert Woodfox's supporters worry he
can't get a fair trial
By Emily Lane <http://connect.nola.com/staff/emilylane/posts.html>
September 22, 2015
A bloody fingerprint, a knife and some clothing are among the evidence
found at a 1972 crime scene inside Louisiana State Penitentiary, after
prison guard Brent Miller was stabbed 32 times to his death at Angola.
Prisoner Albert Woodfox has been twice convicted of the crime and held
in solitary confinement more than 40 years for his alleged involvement
in the 23-year-old guard's death. But until this week, no one from the
state had ever ordered testing the blood evidence for DNA.
Those who believe Woodfox is innocent have clamored for DNA testing,
pointing out fingerprints at the scene did not match Woodfox's. Their
request was finally granted Monday (Sept. 21), when state District Judge
William Carmichael ordered the testing at a hearing in St. Francisville.
Carmichael also ordered comparing fingerprints lifted from the crime
scene against those of every prisoner who was at Angola when Miller was
Prosecutors for Attorney General Buddy Caldwell's Office did not object
to the DNA testing and fingerprints examination.
Yet most supporters of the 68-year-old Woodfox, including family
members, friends and activists for his release, left Monday's hearing
disappointed. They agree with a federal judge that the state should not
try Woodfox for a third time, and Monday's hearing made clear the state
is poised to take the case to trial again.
"The more time the state has, the less time Albert gets," said former
prisoner Robert King.
*The fight over a third trial*
King, Woodfox and the late Herman Wallace are known as the Angola 3,
whose supporters argue the men were wrongfully implicated and convicted
in prison murders in retaliation for helping organize a Black Panther
Party chapter that protested inhumane conditions inside Angola at the time.
As the last remaining imprisoned member of the trio, Woodfox
has received worldwide attention, mostly because of the amount of time
he's been held alone in a cell "the size of a parking spot" for 23 hours
a day, according to the human rights organization Amnesty International,
which has called for his release.
Doubts about Woodfox's guilt have surfaced over the years, including by
Miller's widow, Teenie Rogers. Miller's brother Stan Miller and other
members of his family, however, agree with Caldwell's office that
Woodfox is guilty.
"My brother (doesn't) get to go home and rest in peace," Stan Miller
said in June. "He's under the ground and resting in peace."
A spokesman for Caldwell said after the hearing Monday that it is
Woodfox's attorneys, not the state's, who's thwarting justice in the case.
"This inmate seeks to further delay justice by attempting to put up
procedural hurdles that would prevent the state from holding him fully
accountable for his crime," said Aaron Sadler, Caldwell's communications
director, in a statement.
The statement alluded to several motions Woodfox's attorneys asking to
strike for testimony of witnesses who have died. Woodfox's attorneys say
some of the old statements have been debunked, and the defense can't
cross-examine witnesses who are dead. The judge denied most of those
motions, meaning much of the old testimony will be allowed in lieu of
*Two previous convictions thrown out*
Federal courts threw out both of Woodfox's previous convictions on
constitutional grounds in 1992 and 2014, respectively. But after the
second conviction was overturned last year, a West Feliciana Parish
grand jury indicted Woodfox for a third time
U.S. District Judge James Brady in June 2014 ordered Woodfox's
unconditional release and prohibited a third trial. Woodfox has remained
in prison as the state appeals.
Brady's ruling said a number of factors indicated Woodfox could not
receive a fair retrial. Key witnesses were dead; Woodfox is old and
ailing; and the state showed prejudice in Woodfox's case by isolating
him in alone in a cell, the judge wrote. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals is currently weighing Brady's decision as the state moves
forward with its prosecution.
If a federal judge tried to bar a third trial on the basis that
the state cannot produce a fair trial, "then to try him unfairly is the
only way," King said.
"Judge Brady's writ of unconditional release should have ended Albert's
ordeal, yet Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell continues to
pursue a campaign of vengeance against him," says a statement Monday by
Amnesty International. "It's time for Albert Woodfox to walk free."
In June, Caldwell told the Associated Press that the driving factor
behind his dogged pursuit of the Woodfox's case
— guilt, guilt, guilt."
Carmichael on Monday rejected a request by Woodfox's attorneys to throw
out the recent grand jury indictment, which would have precluded a third
trial. Carmichael also denied a change of venue, which means a new trial
would take place in West Feliciana Parish, where Angola is located.
The next deadline in the state's case in the end of October, at which
point Carmichael indicated he might be prepared to set a trial date.
*A brother's concern*
As Woodfox walked into court Monday, wearing black-and-white stripped
shirt and pants stamped "WFSO," he smiled and lifted one of hand from
his cuffed wrists to wave to his brother, Michael Mable, who was among
those in the gallery at the hearing.
Mable, who lives in Houston but visits Woodfox on a monthly basis, said
after the hearing that he thought his brother looked worried once the
judge started quickly issuing orders on multiple motions.
Mable pointed to a confederate monument outside the courthouse and noted
that the history and culture of Louisiana, as well as the state's
treatment of his brother's case through the years, means it could be
difficult for Woodfox to receive a fair trial.
Woodfox's 1974 murder conviction was vacated in 1992 due to "systematic
discrimination." His 1993 indictment was ultimately thrown out because
of racial discrimination in the selection of a grand jury foreperson.
"I just want to see justice," Mable said.
Woodfox, of New Orleans, was originally sentenced to prison at Angola on
charges of armed robbery. He's currently being held at a
pretrial facility in St. Francisville, where he remains in isolation for
more than 23 hours a day.
For the armed robbery, Mable said Woodfox served his time.
"But a murderer? No," he shook his head. "I will go to my grave or he'll
go to his grave (declaring) that he did not kill Brent Miller."
. . . . . .
/Emily Lane <http://connect.nola.com/staff/emilylane/posts.html>is a
news reporter based in Baton Rouge. Reach her at elane at nola.com
<mailto:elane at nola.com> or 504-717-7699. Follow her on Twitter
(@emilymlane <https://twitter.com/emilymlane>) or Facebook.
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
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