A federal district court on Monday ordered the release of 68-year-old Albert Woodfox, a former Black Panther, who spent 40 years in solitary confinement after a prison riot resulted in the death of a Louisiana State Penitentiary prison guard in Angola, according to The Guardian.U.S. District Judge James Brady of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, ordered the release of Woodfox and took the extra step of blocking prosecutors from trying him for a third time, saying he lacks confidence in the state’s ability to provide a fair trial, writes the news outlet.
Woodfox, the longest-standing solitary confinement prisoner in the U.S., who has lived in uninterrupted isolation for 43 years, is the last of the “Angola Three” inmates.
From The Guardian:
A ruling by the US court of appeals for the fifth circuit in November gave the 68-year-old his greatest hope of release when it overturned his conviction, but he was charged again at state level in February…
[Judge James Brady] said [Monday that the court] had found at least five factors in Woodfox’s favour, including his age and poor health and his limited ability to present a defence at a third trial in the light of the unavailability of witnesses.
[He] also cited [the court’s] “lack of confidence in the state to provide a fair third trial, the prejudice done onto Mr Woodfox by spending over 40 years in solitary confinement, and finally the very fact that Mr Woodfox has already been tried twice and would otherwise face his third trial for a crime that occurred over 40 years ago.”
Supporters are cautiously optimistic about the ruling after a spokesman for the state’s attorney general announced plans to appeal the decision, reports the Los Angeles Times, which provides the following background about the case:
As inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Woodfox — who was originally convicted of armed robbery — and Herman Wallace and Robert King had organized a chapter of the Black Panthers and begun mobilizing other African American inmates against brutal conditions inside the prison. In 1972, Woodfox and Wallace were accused of murdering [prison guard Brent Miller in 1972] and placed in solitary confinement. King, convicted in the death of another inmate, was also placed in solitary — and the three were kept there for decades.
They maintained that they were kept in solitary as payback for their political activities. Dubbed the Angola 3, they became a cause celebre for prison reform advocates.
While in the terminal stages of liver cancer, Wallace was released from prison in October 2013. He died two days later, The Guardian writes. King was released in 2001. He spent a total of 29 years in solitary.