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Supporters rally at hearing for Woodfox

Published Mar 15, 2009 9:18 PM

Some three dozen supporters of Albert Woodfox rallied in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans on March 3, and then went inside for a hearing on his case. Woodfox, one of the three political prisoners known as the Angola 3, has been in solitary confinement for 36 years after a politically motivated murder conviction.

Supporters, including some from as far as Maine and California, wore black T-shirts that proclaimed “I am Albert Woodfox” and “I am Herman Wallace,” the other member of the Angola 3 who has not been released. A mobile billboard that read “36 years of solitary, 36 years of innocence” circled the courthouse as the proceedings took place.

Woodfox, Wallace and Robert King Wilkerson were Black Panther Party members who organized prisoner protests and strikes against conditions in the notorious Angola penitentiary—a former plantation where guards subjected prisoners to horrific abuses, including sexual enslavement.

According to a March 2 Mother Jones report: “In the early 1970s, Angola—which spans an area the size of Manhattan and is 30 miles from the nearest town—was a lawless, dangerous hellhole. The all-white corrections officers, who were called ‘freemen,’ lived with their families in their own community on the prison grounds, with inmate-servants they called ‘house boys.’”

After the 1972 stabbing death of prison guard Brent Miller, Woodfox and Wallace were tried and convicted based largely on the testimony of an eyewitness who, after being promised a pardon, changed his initial story to finger the two. Wilkerson, although said by authorities to be linked to the guard’s death, was not charged. All three, however, were placed in solitary confinement for almost three decades. The Angola 3 have received international attention and widespread support.

This past November, U.S. District Judge James Brady ruled that Woodfox’s defense attorneys in his 1998 retrial had failed to provide Woodfox with adequate legal representation and ordered him released. However, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals granted an appeal by Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, including a motion to keep Woodfox imprisoned until the 5th Circuit reached a decision on the appeal.

It is expected that the court will take three to six months to reach a decision on the March 3 hearing. The International Coalition to Free the Angola 3 reports that if the court upholds Brady’s ruling, then the state of Louisiana will have 120 days to retry or release Woodfox. If the ruling is overturned, Woodfox would have to start the appeals process anew.

For more information on the Angola 3, visit www.angola3.org.