Just moments ago, Albert Woodfox, the last remaining member of the Angola 3 still behind bars, was released from prison 43 years and 10 months after he was first put in a 6×9 foot solitary cell for a crime he did not commit. After decades of costly litigation, Louisiana State officials have at last acted in the interest of justice and reached an agreement that brings a long overdue end to this nightmare. Albert has maintained his innocence at every step, and today, on his 69th birthday, he will finally begin a new phase of his life as a free man.
In anticipation of his release this morning, Albert thanked his many supporters and added: “Although I was looking forward to proving my innocence at a new trial, concerns about my health and my age have caused me to resolve this case now and obtain my release with this no-contest plea to lesser charges. I hope the events of today will bring closure to many.”
Over the course of the past four decades, Albert’s conviction was overturned three separate times for a host of constitutional violations including prosecutorial misconduct, inadequate defense, racial discrimination in the selection of the grand jury foreperson, and suppression of exculpatory evidence. On June 8th, 2015, Federal Judge James Brady ordered Albert’s immediate release and barred the State from retrying Albert, an extraordinary ruling that he called “the only just remedy.” A divided panel of the 5th Circuit Court of appeals reversed that order in November with the dissenting Judge arguing that “If ever a case justifiably could be considered to present ‘exceptional circumstances’ barring re-prosecution, this is that case.” That ruling was on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court when news of his release broke.
On behalf of the Angola 3 – Albert Woodfox, Robert King, and in memory of Herman Wallace – we would like to sincerely thank all the organizations, activists, artists, legal experts, and other individuals who have so graciously given their time and talent to the Angola 3’s extraordinary struggle for justice. This victory belongs to all of us and should motivate us to stand up and demand even more fervently that long-term solitary confinement be abolished, and all the innocent and wrongfully incarcerated be freed.
February 19, 2016, West Feliciana, LA — Albert Woodfox, who spent more time in solitary confinement than any prisoner in U.S. history, will be released this afternoon from custody after more than four decades in the Louisiana prison system. Mr. Woodfox, who turned 69 today, continues to maintain his innocence for the murder that sent him to solitary confinement for more than four decades. He pled no contest to two lesser crimes before being set free.
“I want to thank my brother Michel for sticking with me all these years, and Robert King, who wrongly spent nearly 30 years in solitary. I could not have survived without their courageous support, along with the support of my dear friend Herman Wallace, who passed away in 2013,” said Mr. Woodfox. “I also wish to thank the many members of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3, Amnesty International, and the Roddick Foundation, all of whom supported me through this long struggle. Lastly, I thank William Sothern, Rob McDuff and my lawyers at Squire Patton Boggs and Sanford Heisler Kimpel for never giving up. Although I was looking forward to proving my innocence at a new trial, concerns about my health and my age have caused me to resolve this case now and obtain my release with this no-contest plea to lesser charges. I hope the events of today will bring closure to many.”
The extreme and cruel solitary confinement endured by Mr. Woodfox and his fellow prisoners, Herman Wallace and Robert King, known as the “Angola 3,” drew international condemnation. The unnecessary and inhumane use of solitary confinement was particularly stark in light of Mr. Woodfox’s exemplary conduct record for decades. In fact, in the midst of litigation, the Wardens of both institutions where Mr. Woodfox was held in solitary confinement admitted that he had exemplary conduct records.
“Although we are overjoyed that Albert Woodfox is finally free, it is indefensible he was forced to endure decade after decade in harsh solitary confinement conditions, longer than any prisoner in the history of the United States,” stated George Kendall, attorney with Squire Patton Boggs, LLP. “Albert survived the extreme and cruel punishment of 40 plus years in solitary confinement only because of his extraordinary strength and character. These inhumane practices must stop. We hope the Louisiana Department of Corrections will reform and greatly limit its use of solitary confinement as have an increasing number of jurisdictions around the country.”
Mr. Woodfox and Mr. King, along with Mr. Wallace, brought a civil lawsuit in 2000, challenging the constitutionality of the State of Louisiana’s use of indefinite solitary confinement. Mr. Woodfox and Mr. King confirmed that a primary goal of the ongoing litigation is to help bring light to the fact that there is no penological justification for how the State of Louisiana currently uses solitary confinement and to create incentives for reform. As Mr. Woodfox explained, “I can now direct all my efforts to ending the barbarous use of solitary confinement and will continue my work on that issue here in the free world.”
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