October 27, 2008
Contact:
Anna Christopher, NPR



   

FROM ANGOLA PRISON IN LOUISIANA, NPR NEWS EXAMINES
THE CRIME THAT KEPT TWO MEN
IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT FOR 36 YEARS,
AND THE QUESTIONS ABOUT THEIR CONVICTION THAT REMAIN

NPR’s LAURA SULLIVAN HEARS NEW EVIDENCE, WITNESS ACCOUNTS,
IN THREE-PART SERIES ON
ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, OCTOBER 27-29



October 27, 2008; Washington, D.C. – In Angola Prison in Louisiana, two men spent 36 years in solitary confinement – the longest period of isolation for any American inmates in modern history. NPR correspondent Laura Sullivan has the story of the two Angola inmates, Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, convicted of the 1972 murder of a young prison guard, Brent Miller, and the questions that remain about whether the right men were convicted. Sullivan’s account from Angola is airing in three parts, today through Wednesday on NPR News’ All Things Considered.

Sullivan’s reporting is the result of several months spent on the story, visiting with the inmates and current and former wardens; speaking with Brent Miller’s widow; and talking to people in the small, insular town who remember the events of 1972. Prison officials would not allow NPR to interview the two inmates, even though it is possible to talk to them by phone. Officials said if they were to learn such an interview took place, the men would be returned to solitary. This report comes at a pivotal moment in the decades-old crime: in the next few days, a legal break could free one of the men.

The three pieces, airing Monday through Wednesday, are as follows:

Angola Prison: Part One
Today, October 27

In 1972, Brent Miller was a young corrections officer at Angola, then the most violent prison in the country, torn by racial and political strife. While on the job one day in April, Miller was stabbed 38 times with a lawn mower blade. Sullivan reports that Wallace and Woodfox, then both serving 50-year sentences for robbery, were quickly convicted of the murder and sentenced to solitary confinement, a punishment that was renewed every 90 days by every warden in the 36 years since.

Angola Prison: Part Two
Tuesday, October 28

The response to the brutal killing of Brent Miller was swift: prison officials rounded up 200 inmates, all of them black, and created an interrogation center where some inmates say tear gas and beatings were practiced. Based on the eye-witness account of a serial rapist, Wallace and Woodfox were convicted by all white juries in less than two hours. In Part 2, Sullivan also talks to a juror in Woodfox’s retrial in the ‘90s. The wife of the Angola warden who led the Miller murder investigation, she expresses shock that she was on the jury: “I went to the DA and said, you are going to put me off of this. And he said, no.”

Angola Prison: Part Three
Wednesday, October 29

In Part 3, Sullivan reports that Miller’s widow and some inmates at the prison at the time say they're not sure the authorities got the right men. The main witness against the two defendants was a notorious snitch who received special treatment after his testimony – he was moved to lower-security housing and received a carton of cigarettes weekly, according to documents reviewed by NPR. Sullivan hears from one former inmate, who says another man confessed to killing Miller, and visits another, who says he was transferred to solitary for 20 years after defending Wallace. In the past year, under scrutiny of appeals, Wallace and Woodfox have been moved from solitary to maximum security.

Sullivan joined NPR's National Desk in December 2004, covering issues of crime and punishment. She won a Gracie Award for “Outstanding News Series” for her 2006 report “Life in Solitary Confinement” on the state of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons; she won her second Gracie last year for a two-part report on the high occurrence of rape against Native American women.

All Things Considered, NPR's signature afternoon news magazine, is hosted by Melissa Block, Michele Norris, and Robert Siegel and reaches more than 11.6 million listeners weekly. A photo gallery from Angola, and additional information about Sullivan’s three-part report will be available at www.NPR.org.