A federal judge ordered the release of Albert Woodfox on Monday evening, potentially bringing to an end his 40 years in solitary confinement in the Louisiana prison system. Woodfox, now 68-years-old, was placed in solitary confinement in the state’s notorious Angola prison; he was serving time for armed robbery when he was convicted for the 1972 murder of a prison guard. The murder conviction was overturned twice; Woodfox has maintained his innocence throughout and was awaiting his third trial.
Woodfox was a member of the “Angola 3,” named after the prison where he and two other inmates tried to organize a Black Panther Party chapter. Supporters say all three were fingered for the killing of the prison guard Brent Miller in retaliation for starting the group. The New York Times wrote a scathing editorial in November calling the treatment of Woodfox “barbaric beyond measure.” Here’s more from that Times editorial:
For 23 hours a day — 23 hours and 45 minutes on weekends — he sits by himself in a closet-size, windowless cell. He eats all his meals alone. He has no access to the prison’s educational or religious activities. His contact with visitors is extremely limited. Over the past year, he has endured visual body cavity searches up to six times a day, even though he is under constant supervision and is shackled and accompanied by guards whenever he is removed. The facts of the case were on his side: There was no physical evidence linking him or his co-defendant, Herman Wallace, to the murder, and prosecutors did not reveal that their main witness had been bribed to testify against the men. Mr. Woodfox, by all accounts, has been a model prisoner, and under Louisiana prison policy this should have earned him his exit from solitary confinement years ago.
The Fifth Circuit rejected an appeal from the state of Louisiana as recently as last November, agreeing with a lower court that Woodfox’s conviction should be overturned. Several months later, in February, the state indicted Woodfox for a third time and transferred him to a new prison. “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,” according to the Associated Press. “A spokesman for the Louisiana attorney general said the state would appeal Brady's ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ‘to make sure this murderer stays in prison and remains fully accountable for his actions.’"