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Angola 3 hearing

Supporters mobilize, demand ‘Free Herman Wallace!’

Published Aug 14, 2006 8:50 PM

Herman Wallace, Robert King Wilkerson
and Albert Woodfox.

Supporters of the Angola 3 are traveling by buses and vans, trains and planes to hold a vigil outside the walls of the Louisiana State Penitentiary on Aug. 15, during prisoner Herman Wallace’s evidentiary hearing inside.

Buses are already slated to leave from Austin, Houston and Dallas, Texas; Law rence, Kan.; Oakland, Calif.; Tucson, Ariz.; Chicago, Philadelphia and New York.

Common Ground and other community-based organizations have scheduled buses from New Orleans.

The Angola 3—Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox and Robert King Wilkerson—were sentenced to life without parole after their conviction for the 1972 killing of a prison guard. Wilkerson proved his innocence and won release in 2001.

Organizations all over the world, including Amnesty International, have demanded freedom for the Angola 3. The parliaments of Indonesia, Portugal, Belgium and Netherlands, and the African National Congress in South Africa, have all denounced the decades of solitary imprisonment the men have endured as “cruel and unusual punishment” and have recognized the Angola 3 as “political prisoners.”

A recent BBC investigative segment on the Angola 3, broadcast to some 25 million viewers, reported that “there is powerful evidence that they were framed.”

Spirit of Nat Turner

Supporters have long stressed that the three prisoners were targeted by the administration because they were courageous political activists inside the walls of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

The notoriously brutal, hard-labor state prison farm—the biggest prison in the United States—sits atop 18,000 acres of land that before the Civil War was a plantation cultivated by enslaved Black laborers, most of them from the African country of Angola.

In 1972, all the prison officials, really overseers, were white, while 80 percent of the prisoners were Black. And it’s still true today. Prisoners labor from sunup to sundown harvesting cotton, sugar cane and other cash crops. According to “The Farm”—a documentary nominated for an Academy Award—80 percent of prisoners sent to Angola will die there.

The men who later became known as the Angola 3 founded one of the only recognized prison Black Panther chapters in 1971. They tried to organize against Jim Crow segregation in order to bring Black and white prisoners toge ther to desegregate “The Farm” and defend fellow prisoners against systematic rape and violence.

The three tried to mobilize a movement to win better living conditions. They provided their experience as “jail-house lawyers” to help other prisoners. They set up political education programs for prisoners. And they organized work stoppages and dining hall strikes.

After a guard’s death in 1972, the administration unleashed a wave of terror against Black prisoners: beatings, forcibly shaving the heads of African American prisoners who grew Afros, and mass solitary confinement.

Few prisoners in world history have been held in solitary as long as the Angola 3. Robert Wilkerson spent 29 years before his release. Wallace and Woodfox have spent 34 years locked up in solitary, 23 hours a day, in 6-by-9 foot cells—sweltering without air conditioning in Loui siana summers.

This is a critical moment

The two men charge that state witnesses against them were prison “snitches,” bribed with favors in return for their testimony.

Three prosecution witnesses have since confessed that they lied on the stand and have recanted their testimony. Eye witnesses have identified the prisoner, now dead, who they say actually killed the guard. Yet the Louisiana courts have not yet ruled on this evidence.

The Louisiana State Court of Appeals has now ordered an evidentiary hearing into Herman Wallace’s charge that the state hid the fact that prison officials paid off the chief witness at his 1974 trial with a pardon of his life sentence and ongoing supplies of cigarettes. That hearing will take place Aug. 15 to 17, if all three days are required.

Longtime Angola 3 lawyer Scott Fleming, explaining the importance of this evidentiary hearing, says Wallace’s conviction could be overturned if the state court finds that the state offered favors to the prosecution witness and did not disclose this fact to the defense or the jury, and that this suppression of evidence could have contributed to his conviction.

This explains the importance of a vigil outside the walls of the prison scheduled for the time of the hearing on Aug. 15. Supporters are alerted, however, to the fact that the location could shift to Baton Rouge, based on a request for change of venue.

At the same time, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that there is merit to a civil lawsuit filed by all of the Angola 3, charging that their years in solitary confinement violate their right to due process and are cruel and unusual punishment. The lawsuit is moving ahead in federal court and could go to trial in the autumn.

For more information, visit www.Angola3.org. Details about the feature-length documentary film on their struggle—“3 Black Panthers & the Last Slave Plantation”—can be found at 3BlackPanthers.com.