Last Angola 3 prisoner could go free as court delay expires

Albert Woodfox
In this Feb 12, 2015 image made from video and released by WBRZ-TV in Baton Rouge, Albert Woodfox walks into a courthouse in Louisiana. A federal appeals court on Tuesday temporarily blocked the release of Woodfox, the last of the “Angola Three” inmates who spent decades in isolation after forming a Black Panther Party to protest prison conditions. Tuesday’s order came a day after a federal judge ruled that the state can’t fairly try Woodfox, now 68, a third time for the death of a prison guard 43 years ago. (WBRZ-TV via AP)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The last of the Angola Three prisoners is still waiting to hear whether he will walk free after more than four decades in solitary confinement at a Louisiana prison farm.

A federal judge ruled earlier this week that Albert Woodfox must be released immediately, saying the state has never proved — and never will — that he was responsible for the stabbing death of Louisiana State Penitentiary guard Brent Miller 43 years ago.

But the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stayed his release while deciding whether to hear an appeal from Louisiana Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell, who wants to try Woodfox a third time for the guard’s slaying.

That stay expires Friday afternoon.

The court is likely to take one of two actions: extend the stay if it has decided or still needs time to decide whether to hear the state’s appeal; or announce that it won’t hear the state’s appeal and order Woodfox’s immediate release.

Miller’s widow, Teenie Rogers, has done her own investigating and says there’s no evidence that Woodfox is guilty.

“I think it’s time the state stop acting like there is any evidence that Albert Woodfox killed Brent,” Rogers said Thursday. “I hope the Appeals Court cares about the evidence and cares about justice. … Let it be over. For all of us.”

On Monday, U.S. District Judge James Brady of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, ordered the release of Woodfox and took the extraordinary step of barring Louisiana prosecutors from trying him for a third time.

Both of Woodfox’s convictions for the guard’s slaying were overturned on appeal for reasons including juror misconduct and racial prejudice. The state says these problems were merely procedural, but Brady said Woodfox should be released in any case because of his age — he’s 68 now — and his poor health.

It’s the only fair thing to do, the judge said, since he’s been in “solitary confinement for approximately forty years now, and yet today there is no valid conviction holding him in prison, let alone solitary confinement.”

But Caldwell — who has long denied that Woodfox or others were held in solitary confinement — said through a spokesman that Brady’s order amounts to giving Woodfox “a free pass” for murder, and he described Woodfox as “the most dangerous person on the planet.”

Woodfox is now at a prison in St. Francisville, Louisiana, awaiting trial.

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