by Jean Casella

In a unanimous decision, a three-judge panel from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the overturning of Albert Woodfox’s conviction. Yet he may remain in prison – and in solitary confinement – for months or even years before his four-decade ordeal is over.

Albert Woodfox – Louisiana Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell has called him the “most dangerous man on the planet” for his affiliation with the Black Panther Party over 40 years ago.
Albert Woodfox – Louisiana Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell has called him the “most dangerous man on the planet” for his affiliation with the Black Panther Party over 40 years ago.

The International Coalition to Free the Angola 3 declared today: “This is THE moment those of us whose lives have been touched by these men and this case over the years have been waiting for. This is the time when we must call upon the whole of our connections, creativity and courage to call with one voice for the immediate, unequivocal release of Albert Woodfox from prison once and for all without delay.”

Woodfox has been held in solitary confinement for more than 42 years for the 1972 murder of corrections officer Brent Miller at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Many believe that he and the other two members of the Angola 3 were targeted for the crime – and subsequently held in isolation – not because of the evidence but because of their involvement in the prison’s chapter of the Black Panther Party.

Woodfox is the only member of the Angola 3 to remain in prison. Robert King won his freedom in 2001 after 29 years in solitary when his original conviction was overturned. Herman Wallace, whose conviction had also been overturned, died last year after more than 41 years in solitary and three days of freedom.

In a unanimous decision, a three-judge panel from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the overturning of Albert Woodfox’s conviction. Yet he may remain in prison – and in solitary confinement – for months or even years before his four-decade ordeal is over.

The Fifth Circuit, considered one of the nation’s most conservative federal appeals courts, voted to uphold a ruling by a federal district court, which vacated Woodfox’s conviction on the grounds that there had been racial bias in the selection of grand jury forepersons in Louisiana at the time of his indictment. The state of Louisiana could decide to accept the appeals court’s decision and free Woodfox or release him on bail while it seeks to re-indict him for the 1972 murder.

That scenario is highly unlikely, however, considering the past statements and actions of Louisiana Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell. Caldwell has called Woodfox, now 67 years old, “the most dangerous man on the planet” due to his political convictions.

“This is THE moment those of us whose lives have been touched by these men and this case over the years have been waiting for. This is the time when we must call upon the whole of our connections, creativity and courage to call with one voice for the immediate, unequivocal release of Albert Woodfox from prison once and for all without delay.”

More recently, when Woodfox’s conviction was overturned last year, Caldwell immediately vowed to appeal, saying: “We feel confident that we will again prevail at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. However, if we do not, we are fully prepared and willing to retry this murderer again.”

Now that things have not gone his way, Caldwell may prepare for a retrial, while opposing bail for Woodfox. Or he may appeal the ruling to the full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rather than a three-judge panel – and from there, if things don’t go his way, to the Supreme Court, where the circuit justice is Antonin Scalia.

This is the Angola 3 – Herman Wallace, Robert King and Albert Woodfox – when they were together in Angola Prison, the 18,000-acre former plantation still worked by the “slaves” imprisoned there. The warden kept them in solitary because of his fear of what he calls “Black Pantherism.”
This is the Angola 3 – Herman Wallace, Robert King and Albert Woodfox – when they were together in Angola Prison, the 18,000-acre former plantation still worked by the “slaves” imprisoned there. The warden kept them in solitary because of his fear of what he calls “Black Pantherism.”

Caldwell asserts that the evidence against Woodfox is “overpowering”: “There are no flaws in our evidence and this case is very strong,” he said last year. These statements belie the fact that much of the evidence that led to Wallace and Woodfox’s conviction has since been called into question.

In particular, the primary eyewitness was shown to have been bribed by prison officials into making statements against the two men. Solitary Watch’s James Ridgeway first wrote about the Woodfox case in 2009 in Mother Jones, providing a comprehensive history and analysis, as well as an account of the conditions in which Woodfox has lived for four decades.

Woodfox’s conditions of confinement have if anything deteriorated in the last five years: He was moved from Angola to David Wade Correctional Center in north central Louisiana, where, according to a separate lawsuit, he faces multiple daily strip searches and visual body cavity searches.

Woodfox, along with Robert King and the estate of Herman Wallace, is also plaintiff in a major federal lawsuit challenging his decades in solitary on First, Eighth and 14th Amendment grounds. That suit may finally come to trial next year.

Jean Casella and James Ridgeway are co-editors of Solitary Watch, an innovative public website aimed at bringing the widespread use of solitary confinement out of the shadows and into the light of the public square. Solitary Watch, where this story first appeared, provides the first centralized, comprehensive source of information on solitary confinement in the United States. Email them at solitarywatchnews@gmail.com or write to Solitary Watch, P.O. Box 11374, Washington, DC 20008. The Bay View contributed to this story.

And send our brother some love and light: Albert Woodfox, 72148, David Wade Correctional Center, 670 Bell Hill Road, Homer, LA 71040.

3 COMMENTS

  1. This is crazy. How does Civil Liberties allow 41 years in solitary confinement. What about cruel and unusual punishment. Convicted of a crime he will eventually be freed from and then convicted again to Solitary because now he is a convict. Bullshit Bulllshit Bullshit

  2. There is a hidden agenda, something that the system wants kept under wraps. That’s why they have buried him in solitary. I know how it works as I have worked in the system. It’s so damn wrong!

  3. What the hell is this really all about. Attorney General James Caldwell could very well be “the most dangerous man on the planet” because of his unshakable racist attitude and determination to be right, even when he is wrong.

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