Wednesday, June 11, 2008


WBRZ News in New Orleans is reporting thirty-five years after Angola prison inmate Albert Woodfox (see drawing here) was convicted in the murder of a prison guard, a federal jurist has recommended he receive a third trial. Woodfox has maintained that he did not participate in Miller’s murder and that he was targeted for prosecution in the case because he had helped establish a prison chapter of the Black Panther Party.

Woodfox, 61, one of the prisoners known as the "Angola Three," spent most of the past three decades in solitary confinement after he was convicted in the stabbing death of guard Brent Miller during a prison riot.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Christine Noland concluded Tuesday that Woodfox did not receive effective legal counsel during a 1998 re-trial that again resulted in his conviction.

She recommended that U.S. District Judge James Brady return the case to state district court for a third trial.

Herman Wallace along with Woodfox for more than 30 years remained in extended isolation at Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. They have been confined alone to small cells for 23 hours a day with only three hours of outdoor exercise a week. Both men were reportedly suffering from serious health problems as a result of their conditions.

As the blog Why Am I Not Surprised has commented back in the early 70s both men (along with Robert King who was freed in 2001, after a successful appeal to the federal court system on another unrelated charge) were committed to address the system of sexual slavery that lay at the base of abuse and rage so intense among the population that there was on average a murder a week inside the walls.

They organized a chapter of the Black Panther Party within the notorious prison to try to alleviate the hell the place had long before become. The organizing capability of the Black Panther Party inside prison, however, was even more threatening to the Powers-That-Be than similar activities in the street at that time. The prison administration couldn't tolerate prisoners taking control of their own lives. It did all it could to put a stop to any such thing in their prison.

But the spirit of men like Woodfox would not be crushed.

"I had to fight corruption and the things being tolerated by the prison administration to control the population," Woodfox, 61, said in an interview. "When you saw the look on these kids' faces -- to see the spirit of another human being broken -- it affected the way you looked at life."

The Times-Picayune in an article this spring wrote:

"In 1972, Angola was a horror-show of corruption and abuse that inspired state legislators and a newly-elected governor to call for an investigation into what was taking place behind the front gates, where at the time none of the guards employed were black."

"It was also completely segregated," said Nick Trenticosta, a New Orleans attorney who continues to fight for the freedom of Woodfox and Wallace, as King was released in 2001. "There were lots and lots of weapons, at least a murder a week - inmates being murdered. It was against that backdrop that Albert and Herman formed a Black Panther Party chapter. They were trying to stop the sexual slavery and rampant rage occurring there everyday."'

Left to fend for themselves at the plantation-turned Angola state prison, inmates in 1973 were subject to being "sold" to each other to be used as "sex slaves" or prostituted out to other inmates in exchange for prison-brands of currency, such as cigarettes."

The warden at the time, C. Murray Henderson, later confirmed this system of sexual slavery in his own book. Henderson was later sentenced to 50 years in prison for the 1997 attempted murder of his wife, writer Anne Butler, on her front porch in St. Francisville."

Back in 72 Leontine Verrett was the fiance of the murdered guard Brent Miller. She long believed the three men charged in the crime were guilty. That began to change a couple of years ago. It was then that Billie Mizell, a legal investigator and fledgling author, showed up at Verrett's home near the banks of the Bayou Teche. She said she wanted to talk about Miller's murder.

The LA Times reported last month what Mizell told Verrett stunned her. A bloody fingerprint found at the scene did not match Woodfox or Wallace. There was never any physical evidence linking them to the crime.

Mizell said the star witness against Woodfox and Wallace, a repeat sex offender serving a life sentence, was promised freedom for his testimony -- a deal that the prosecution never disclosed to the defense. He was later transferred to another building where guards plied him with cigarettes, a prized jailhouse currency.

The Times wrote Verrett was still skeptical. But she and Dean, who had also worked as an Angola guard, corroborated everything Mizell said by digging up court files and talking to friends and former co-workers.

After years of struggling with questions about the cold way prison authorities treated her when she sought compensation for her husband's death, issues she ignored as a teenager but that gnawed at her as an adult, she came to a troubling realization.

Maybe the men charged with the murder were not guilty at all.

"If I were on that jury," Verrett now says, "I don't think I would have convicted them."

The following is from the New Oreleans Times-Picayune

'Angola 3' member to get 3rd trial in prison guard's death

A federal magistrate recommends a third trial for a former Black Panther who spent 36 years in solitary confinement after being convicted of killing a prison guard.

Magistrate Judge Christine Noland says Albert Woodfox's attorney should have objected to testimony presented in his 1998 retrial, but failed to do so.

That included statements by an inmate who was promised help getting an early release in exchange for testimony, and expert testimony about blood spatters on clothing that state officials said had been lost.

Both witnesses had died since Woodfox's first trial in 1972. Their trial testimony was read to jurors.

Woodfox was among three inmates held in solitary for decades. They say the reason is that they had been Black Panther activists.

One of the "Angola Three" is now free after his 1973 conviction for murdering a fellow inmate was overturned and he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder. The other two were convicted of killing a guard during a 1972 riot. They were moved to a maximum security dormitory in March.

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