Louisiana Asks Court To Block Release Of 'Angola 3' Inmate
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Albert Woodfox has spent more than 43 years in solitary confinement. He's the last man still behind bars from the group known as the Angola Three. They were Black Panthers, political radicals, already in Louisiana's Angola prison for armed robbery when accused of killing a guard during a riot in 1972. Woodfox was convicted of the murder twice, and both times the verdicts were overturned. He has long said he's not guilty. And on Monday, a federal judge ordered Albert Woodfox released, yet he is still in solitary. Another federal judge has blocked that release until at least Friday to consider an appeal from the state. We reached one of his lawyers on a cell phone, Carine Williams.
Why was, first of all, Albert Woodfox in solitary confinement for so long?
CARINE WILLIAMS: I think the only conclusion that we've been able to come up with - and it really is something that is impossible to legitimately explain - is that the prison felt empowered to take it upon themselves to add extra punishment to Mr. Woodfox beyond what the court ordered in sentencing him to life and that there was some dimension of vengefulness in deciding to put him in the hole.
MONTAGNE: He was originally sent to Angola. He was originally sent to the Louisiana State Penitentiary for armed robbery. And then what happened, over 40 years ago, was that one of the guards was killed, was murdered, and he was accused of that. And even though he was convicted twice of that and both those convictions were overturned, after being put in solitary confinement - what? - he just stayed there all these years?
WILLIAMS: That's right. It's hard to believe, but that's correct. Every 90 days, the state of Louisiana is obliged to give prisoners in solitary confinement a review to see whether or not circumstances still warrant such extremely restrictive confinement. And every 90 days, there was no justification provided for continuing Mr. Woodfox's review beyond something along the lines of, quote, "nature of the original offense." So in effect, the state of Louisiana was saying, we have no hope for release.
MONTAGNE: Have you spoken with Albert Woodfox? I mean, do you know how he reacted to this?
WILLIAMS: We did. We, ourselves - my colleague, George Kendall, and I got the news. And we drove straight to the prison with copies of the decision. And he had not yet heard the news when we arrived. So, you know, Mr. Woodfox is unfortunately seasoned in how slowly the wheels of justice can move, and so he is guardedly optimistic.
MONTAGNE: Someone on the outside might hope that he was jubilant, but what you're saying is he's waiting. He's being careful.
WILLIAMS: Yes. He's tempering those hopes and dreams with a sense of the realism that he has after being held under such conditions for so long, that justice can move slowly.
MONTAGNE: Prosecutors there did indicate they wanted to try him a third time - Albert Woodfox - a third time for the murder of this guard. But Judge James Brady was quite adamant that he could not get a fair trial so they could not charge him again.
WILLIAMS: That's right, Renee. Under the circumstances that we find ourselves in today, where the underlying crime happened over 40 years ago, there is no state which could fairly try Mr. Woodfox. Every key witness that testified for the state is now deceased. Mr. Woodfox's alibi witnesses are now deceased. There's no way for him to fairly confront his accusers under those circumstances. So I think the federal court's ruling was right. There is no way for a fair trial to proceed at this stage.
MONTAGNE: Carine Williams is a lawyer for Albert Woodfox. Thank you very much for joining us.
WILLIAMS: Thank you, Renee.
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