US court blocks free­dom for last of ‘An­gola Three’


A fed­eral court Fri­day blocked the re­lease of Al­bert Wood­fox, the last in­car­cer­ated mem­ber of a group of Louisiana pris­on­ers known as the An­gola Three, and raised doubts as to whether Wood­fox will avoid a third trial in the 1972 slay­ing of a pri­son guard.

Wood­fox must now re­main be­hind bars un­til at least late Au­gust, when an ap­peals court hears ar­gu­ments on the state’s ap­peal of a judge’s or­der deny­ing a third ef­fort to make a con­vic­tion stand in the stabbing death of Brent Miller.

In a blow to his de­fense, the ap­pel­late panel’s unan­i­mous rul­ing sug­gested that Louisiana might be able to try Wood­fox again af­ter all, de­spite the ear­lier judge’s con­clu­sion that it would be im­pos­si­ble to guar­an­tee a fair trial, given that 43 years have passed, key wit­nesses have died and there is no phys­i­cal ev­i­dence link­ing Wood­fox to the crime.

Louisiana “has made a strong show­ing that it is likely to suc­ceed on the mer­its of the ap­peal,” the panel wrote. “No show­ing has been made that any state re­trial (or any ap­peal) im­prop­erly han­dled.”

The de­ci­sion caps a tu­mul­tuous week in a decades-long case that has fo­cused in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion on the use of soli­tary con­fine­ment in Amer­i­can prisons.

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‘No valid con­vic­tion’

Judge James Brady took the ex­tra­or­di­nary step of bar­ring a third trial for Wood­fox, whose pre­vi­ous con­vic­tions were over­turned for rea­sons in­clud­ing racial bias in se­lect­ing a grand jury fore­man and ju­ror mis­con­duct. “There is no valid con­vic­tion hold­ing him in pri­son, let alone soli­tary con­fine­ment,” Brady ruled on Mon­day.

But by Fri­day, the ap­pel­late judges or­dered Wood­fox held un­til at least the last week of Au­gust, when a hear­ing was sched­uled on the state’s ap­peal.

Wood­fox was placed in soli­tary im­me­di­ately af­ter Miller’s body was found in an empty pri­son dor­mi­tory, and then was or­dered kept on “ex­tended lock­down” ev­ery 90 days for decades.

The other two were Robert King, who was re­leased in 2001 af­ter his con­vic­tion in the death of a fel­low in­mate was over­turned; and Her- man Wal­lace, who died a free man in Oc­to­ber 2013, just days af­ter a judge granted him a new trial in Miller’s death.

In­mates iden­ti­fied Wood­fox, who was serv­ing time for armed rob­bery and as­sault, as the one who grabbed Miller from be­hind while oth­ers stabbed him with a lawn­mower blade and a hand-sharp­ened pri­son knife.

But the star wit­ness, a se­rial rapist who left death row and was par­doned by the Louisiana gover­nor af­ter his tes­ti­mony, died be­fore the sec­ond trial, and couldn’t be cross-ex­am­ined about whether his tes­ti­mony was in­duced by fa­vor­able treat­ment. The de­fense also ar­gued this week that Wood­fox, now 68 and in ill health, poses no dan­ger to the com­mu­nity if freed dur­ing the ap­peal.

But the ap­pel­late panel, in a 10-page or­der, ruled oth­er­wise.

“There is a sub­stan­tial in­ter­est in stay­ing the re­lease of a per­son, twice con­victed of mur­der, from be­ing re­leased from a life sen­tence with­out the pos­si­bil­ity of pa­role,” Judge Jerry E. Smith wrote.

The Louisiana at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice main­tains that Wood­fox is too danger­ous to set free.

“It has al­ways been the state’s pri­or­ity to en­sure jus­tice for the bru­tal slay­ing of Brent Miller and to hold accountable this mur­derer who has an ex­ten­sive his­tory of vi­o­lent crimes,” said Aaron Sadler, a spokesman for the at­tor­ney gen­eral.

Out­side the jail where Wood­fox was held Fri­day, about a dozen mem­bers of the guard’s fam­ily had been wait­ing for a rul­ing, along with dozens of re­porters and at least eight tele­vi­sion crews. “Praise God,” some of the guard’s fam­ily mem­bers said when the word c ame down.

“When­ever you mur­der some­body or do some­thing wrong, you pay the price,” said one of Miller’s sis­ters, Wanda Cal­len­der. “Two ju­ries said he was guilty ... I would love for him to stay in pri­son the rest of his life.”

Miller’s widow, Tee­nie Rogers, was not at the jail Fri­day, but she has pressed for Wood­fox’s re­lease, say­ing she no longer be­lieves he was re­spon­si­ble. “We are deeply dis­ap­pointed that af­ter 40 years of incarceration un­der the harsh­est con­di­tions pos­si­ble, Mr. Wood­fox will not be re­leased to­day,” Carine Wil­liams, a Wood­fox lawyer, said.

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