U.S federal appeals court blocks release of "Angola Three" Albert Woodfox
A federal appeals court extended an order Friday blocking the release of Albert Woodfox, ruling that the last incarcerated member of the "Angola Three" will remain in prison pending a decision on whether he can be retried.
Woodfox, who has had two of his convictions overturned and has spent more than 40 years in solitary confinement at the maximum-security Louisiana State Prison in Angola, was on the verge of freedom earlier this week after US District Judge James Brady barred the state from retrying him a third time for the 1972 death of a prison guard, and ordered his "immediate" and "unconditional" release. Louisiana Attorney General James Caldwell, however, filed an emergency motion on Tuesday to prevent Woodfox's immediate release.
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A three-judge panel of the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals extended its stay of Brady's ruling and ordered an expedited appeals process. The final legal briefs in the case are due on August 7.
Brady expressed doubt that the state could provide "a fair third trial" due to Woodfox's age — he is 68 — and health conditions, along with the past two trials and convictions that were overturned due to racial prejudice and lack of evidence. The judge also cited the "prejudice done onto Mr. Woodfox" by his four decades in solitary, and a lack of available witnesses.
"The only just remedy is an unconditional writ of habeas corpus barring retrial of Mr. Albert Woodfox and releasing Mr. Woodfox from custody immediately," Brady said in his ruling.
A spokesperson for the attorney general said the appeal was "to make sure this murderer stays in prison and remains fully accountable for his actions."
Woodfox was originally jailed for armed robbery. While serving time, he and two other prisoners became Black Panther activists and were accused of stabbing a guard to death. Human rights group Amnesty International has been critical of the judicial process for the Angola Three, pointing to a lack of DNA evidence and the use of unreliable testimony.
The other two members of the Angola Three were Robert King, who was released in 2001, and Herman Wallace, who died a free man in October 2013, just days after a judge granted him a new trial.
"Today's heartbreaking ruling from the 5th Circuit Court means Albert Woodfox, who has already spent 43 years in prison, faces yet further barriers to his freedom… his continued detention is a yet another cruel blow for a man who has spent more than 40 years in intolerable solitary confinement," Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International, said in a statement after the ruling.