Conviction Overturned, Judge Rules Albert Woodfox Must be Free During Appeals or Re-trial
Lawyers: Ruling Brings Hope for Remaining Prisoner, Also Spent 36 Years in Solitary for Guard’s Murder
Albert Woodfox, who has spent 37 years in prison at Angola Penitentiary, must be released on bail, according to a ruling issued today by United States District Judge James Brady. On September 25th, Judge Brady overturned Woodfox’s conviction for the 1972 murder of prison guard Brent Miller. Though the State has announced its intention to appeal that decision, until such an appeal is successful, according to today’s ruling, there is no conviction on which to hold Woodfox.
In his decision, Judge Brady wrote:
“[Woodfox] is a frail, sickly, middle aged man who has had an exemplary conduct record for over the last twenty years. At the hearing before this Court on October 14, 2008, testimony was adduced that if released Mr. Woodfox would live with his niece and her family in a gated subdivision in Slidell, Louisiana. Mr. Woodfox has withdrawn that request because of fear of harm to his niece and her family by members… This change was brought about by counsel representing the State of Louisiana contacting the subdivision home owners association and providing them with information regarding Mr. Woodfox. The Court is not totally privy to what information was given to the association but from the documents filed it is apparent that the association was not told Mr. Woodfox is frail, sickly, and has had a clean conduct record for more than twenty years…this Court GRANTS Mr. Woodfox’s motion for release pending the State’s appeal.”
Herman Wallace, who was also convicted in the murder, remains in prison at Angola. He has an appeal pending with the Supreme Court of Louisiana, which is similar in content to Woodfox’s successful appeal. The two men were wrongly convicted based largely on the testimony of a fellow prisoner, Hezekiah Brown, a serial rapist who was promised and received a pardon in exchange for his testimony against them. Brown was the sole professed eyewitness to the murder, and none of the physical evidence put Herman or Albert at the crime scene.
Woodfox’s legal team is now working with the court to reach an agreement on a suitable release location and plan for Woodfox; once they agree to a plan, Woodfox will be able to leave Angola. The lawyers anticipate the process to take several more days.
Woodfox and Wallace were each held in solitary confinement from the time of the murder until last March, after a federal court concluded that their suit alleging that such confinement for three decades constitutes cruel and unusual punishment could go forward. A third man, Robert King Wilkerson, was held in solitary at Angola at the same time for a different crime; he was released in 2001 after showing that he had been wrongfully convicted. The three are known as the “Angola 3.” All black men, they had been organizing nonviolently for an end to gang-enforced sex slavery and for better conditions inside the prison. Angola at the time was known as the “bloodiest prison in the US.”
“This is a major victory in a case where justice is long overdue. Albert went into Angola in his twenties, and he’s walking out in his 60s. There is no conviction against him now, and the state should not take another day of his life,” said Chris Aberle, Woodfox’s lawyer.
“In 37 years, Albert never gave up hope that someday he would walk out the gates of Angola. We continue to hope that Herman will join him soon. Neither of these men should have spent a day in Angola for this crime,” said Nick Trenticosta, also a lawyer in the case.
The case has attracted attention on the state and national level. Last spring, US House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers (D-MI) visited the men, along with Louisiana House Judiciary Committee Chair Cedric Richmond (D-101). Richmond has announced his intention to hold hearings on the case, and Conyers continues to monitor developments.
The state had sought a stay of Judge Brady’s ruling ordering a new trial until the appeal process plays out. Judge Brady granted that request. The State must now either win its appeals, or will need to either release or retry Woodfox within 120 days of the end of its appeals.
Judge Brady held an initial bail hearing on October 14th; he postponed issuing a decision at that time to allow for additional depositions to be taken from Angola Warden Burl Cain and from a doctor who had examined Woodfox and his medical records. The State has now conducted both of those depositions.
For a copy of the judgment, to speak with the lawyers, or for any additional information on the case, please contact Emma Mackinnon, emma [at] fenton.com or 202 302 6920.