The only member of the group known as the Angola Three still in prison, Albert Woodfox, can stand trial a third time for a 1972 murder, a federal court ruled Monday. Despite the questionable evidence against him, Woodfox has been in solitary confinement for over 40 years, and holds the record for longest time spent in what inmates sometimes call "the hole."
In June, a federal Judge ordered the 68-year-old's release from Louisiana State Penitentiary, a.k.a. Angola. The order also forbade prosecutors from trying him again. But Woodfox's attorney Angela Allen-Bell told the Associated Press at the time, "He does not allow himself to be very optimistic about things. I think that that is a coping mechanism that he has developed."
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Originally imprisoned on allegations of armed robbery in 1971, Woodfox almost immediately became politically active, helping start a prison chapter of the Black Panthers. He and another Panther named Herman Wallace were convicted in 1974 of murdering a prison guard. Completing the Angola Three was Robert King, convicted of a different murder in 1973. Woodfox, Wallace, and King would spend the next few decades in solitary confinement because they ostensibly had what one of their wardens would later call "the Black Pantherism."
Woodfox's initial murder conviction was overturned 23 years ago, in part thanks to "systematic discrimination," initiating a multi-decade conflict between Woodfox's lawyers and the Louisiana authorities. Woodfox successfully defeated a second conviction in 2014, and Louisiana Attorney General James "Buddy" Caldwell's initial push for this third trial began in February on this year.
After Woodfox's release was ordered in June, Caldwell immediately appealed the judge's order, and a ruling was issued keeping Woodfox locked up for what was meant to be a couple of months while Caldwell's appeal was being evaluated.
This latest ruling serves as a stern rebuke of the district judge who intended to release Woodfox and prevent yet another prejudiced trial. "The district court abused its discretion by barring retrial and by granting the extraordinary remedy of an unconditional writ," the two-to-one majority wrote.
In a press release on Monday, Amnesty International opined, "It's long past time for the courts and state officials to finally provide some measure of justice and let Woodfox walk free."
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