After 4 decades in solitary, Albert Woodfox's release ordered by federal judge

Date of Alert: 
Monday, June 8, 2015

A federal judge in Baton Rouge has called for the unconditional release of Albert Woodfox, the only remaining imprisoned member of the Angola 3.

Woodfox, 68, was placed solitary confinement at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola and other state facilities for more than 40 years for reasons related to the 1972 murder of prison guard Brent Miller. 

U.S. District Judge James Brady issued an orderMonday (June 8) afternoon ordering the unconditional release of Woodfox from state custody and barring a third trial in the murder charges.

Woodfox has always maintained his innocence, claiming he was implicated in the murder of the 23-year-old guard to silence his activism as an organizing member of the prison's Black Panther Party chapter.

Tory Pegram, the manager of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3, said it's unclear if Woodfox will actually be released from custody Monday. His lawyers were en route to Louisiana on a civil case, in which Woodfox is the plaintiff, on Monday when the order was issued. 

Aaron Sadler, the communications director for the Louisiana Department of Justice, said Brady's order "arbitrarily sets aside jury decisions"  based on "faulty procedural issues."

"With today's order, the Court would see fit to set free a twice-convicted murderer who is awaiting trial again for the brutal slaying of Corrections Officer Brent Miller," Sadler said in an emailed statement. 

Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell's office is seeking an emergency stay from the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, he said, "to make sure this murderer stays in prison and remains fully accountable for his actions." 

In the 27-page order, Brady said it is more customary to issue "conditional" release based on the outcome of a retrial. He gave five reasons that qualify as "exceptional circumstances," however, for barring a third trial.

"Mr. Woodfox's age and poor health, his limited ability to present a defense at a third trial in light of the unavailability of witnesses, this Court's lack of confidence in the State to provide a fair third trial, the prejudice done onto Mr. Woodfox by spending over forty-years in solitary confinement, and finally the very fact that Mr. Woodfox has already been tried twice and would otherwise face his third trial for a crime that occurred over forty years ago."