Monday, September 29, 2008


Try and imagine spending more than three decades in solitary confinement in some lousy Louisiana prison. That's been the fate of Albert Woodfox (and fellow inmate Herman Wallace) who have been imprisoned since 1972 for the murder of prison guard Brent Miller.

The true reason is that they tried to organize a chapter of the Black Panther Party in the prison (
see earlier article).

Now, finally, in response to a federal judge's decision overturning the conviction of Woodfox, one of the two 'Angola 3' members who remain in prison, lawyers for the men called on the State Attorney General's office to drop any further charges and release the men immediately.

'Both the magistrate judge and the district court judge have now found that Woodfox's conviction was invalid and had to be reversed. Woodfox has demonstrated the deep flaws in the state's investigation and prosecution of the case against him, and has presented evidence of his innocence. If the State of Louisiana appeals, it will bear the burden of showing the court of appeals that both of the two judges were incorrect. As the facts and the law are so clearly on the side of Mr. Woodfox, we are confident that the State cannot carry that burden. No further legal delay should deprive Albert of even one more day of his life,' said Chris Aberle, one of Woodfox's lawyers.

'The state has already stolen nearly four decades of Albert Woodfox's life. The injustice in this case is unfathomable. How can Louisiana continue to imprison a 61 year old man after a federal judge has ruled that he shouldn't have been convicted in the first place? Albert must be released,' said Nick Trenticosta, co-counsel in the case.

The State though doesn't intend to release him, not yet anyway.

Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell said Friday he will make every effort to keep Albert Woodfox in prison for the 1972 murder of a prison guard.

This despite the fact that virtually everyone involved in the case including close relatives of the murdered guard agree that State's case against Woodfox (and the other two men) was clearly a fabrication.

"This is not a public servant who is trying to pursue justice," Trenticosta said of Caldwell. "This is a public servant who is trying once again to railroad an innocent man."

The third member of the Angola 3, Robert King, was released in 2001 after a judge overturned his conviction. King had spent 29 years in solitary confinement for a separate crime.

Meanwhile, the Nebraska Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday in the case of another former Black Panther who claims he wasn't given a fair trial when convicted in the 1970 bombing death of an Omaha Police officer.

Edward Poindexter and fellow Black Panther David Rice were convicted in Douglas County District Court for the death of Omaha officer Larry Minard. Authorities claimed the pair lured police to a house with a 911 call, then detonated a homemade bomb that killed Minard.

Both men were sentenced to life in prison, but have long proclaimed their innocence.

The bomb that killed Larry Minard was planted by 15 year-old Duane Peak who confessed to the crime but was only sentenced to 33 months of juvenile detention in exchange for his testimony that Poindexter and Langa put him up to the crime and assisted with assembly of the bomb. Peak, in turn, testified that the dynamite was supplied by 23 year-old Raleigh House, a suspected COINTELPRO informant, who only spent one night in jail and was never formally charged for his role in the crime.

Supporters say the imprisoned Panthers were merely victims of the FBI's notorious COINTELPRO program.

In fact evidence makes clear that at the time, the two leaders of Omaha's Black Panther chapter, called the Nebraska Committee to Combat Fascism, were targets of the clandestine operation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Years after their conviction when some COINTELPRO files became available as a result of several Freedom of Information requests it was "discovered" that even before the murdered policeman was buried, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover had given the order to withhold evidence about the unknown caller who lured Minard to his death. Hoover wanted a case made against Poindexter and Langa regardless of what the crime laboratory reported.

Hoovers orders were recorded by FBI Crime Laboratory chief Ivan Willard Conrad. Michael Richardson writes:

"The Omaha FBI Special-Agent-in-Charge sent a memo to Conrad recommending an informal, unwritten lab report on the tape recording of the fatal call. The Omaha Police wanted to identify the caller through vocal analysis of the tape but did not want to release results of the forensic examination to lawyers for Poindexter and Langa. Conrad spoke with Hoover after getting the unusual request to withhold evidence."

The FBI Crime Lab chief scrawled on his copy of the Omaha memo that Hoover approved of the request to not prepare a formal laboratory report on the crucial tape recording. "Dir advised telephonically & said OK to do." Conrad then initialed and dated the memo entry just two days after the bombing."

Omaha Asst. Chief of Police Glen W. Gates later had another memo sent to Hoover by way of the Omaha FBI office asking that no use of the tape be made because it might be "prejudicial to the police murder trial" of Poindexter and Langa. Peak claimed he made the call and placed the bomb under orders from Poindexter, however, the voice on the tape was not that of a 15 year-old but rather an older man thus leaving an unidentified accomplice on the loose and a gaping hole in the prosecution's case against the two Panther leaders."

Conrad followed Hoover's orders and kept quiet about the tape recording. The defense was never provided the tape at trial and the jurors that convicted Poindexter and Langa never got to hear the voice of the actual killer. Peak received a deal from prosecutors and got off with several years of juvenile detention while the two activists were sentenced to life in prison."

Angela Davis, noted University of California professor and political prisoner advocate, told a crowd of 300 justice, civil rights and peace advocates in Omaha recently that the 'Omaha Two' were victims of "repressive authorities" and should be released from prison. She told the crowd, hosted by Nebraskans for Justice, that "the revolution didn't come" and that activists ensnared by COINTELPRO remain imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.

"Our memories aren't as strong as those of the repressive authorities who still hold captive people of that era who fought to end racism, overthrow capitalism and to build a better world for all of us."

We should be ashamed of that fact.

The following is from OP-ED

'Angola 3' Black Panther conviction reversed after 35 years of solitary confinement turns attention to 'Omaha' Two' case
by Michael Richardson

U.S. District Court Judge James J. Brady in Baton Rouge, Louisiana has ordered the state to either free or retry Albert Woodfox after almost three dozen years in solitary confinement. Woodfox, tried with two other co-defendants, was convicted for the 1972 murder of prison guard Brent Miller at Angola Prison where Woodfox was serving a sentence for armed robbery.

After a controversial trial and even more disputed second trial in 1998 when he was retried following appeal of his first conviction, Woodfox may see freedom from the infamous prison where he has been held in virtual isolation over three decades.

Woodfox had been active in a prison chapter of the Black Panthers in racially-charged Angola Prison, a vast plantation-style penitentiary in rural Louisiana. Following conviction for the stabbing murder of Miller a life sentence was imposed and Angola officials decided that for security reasons Woodfox and fellow Panther Herman Wallace would be held in solitary confinement. The 6' by 9' isolation cells would become home, night and day, for thirty-five years.

Magistrate Docia L. Dalby has described the punishment meted out to the two Panthers as, "durations so far beyond the pale that this court has not found anything even remotely comparable in the annals of American jurisprudence."

Judge Brady, after a careful review of the trial record and recommendation of Magistrate Judge Christine Noland, determined that Woodfox had not received a fair trial; that his attorney failed to adequately represent him; and that the state's chief witness, Hezekiah Brown, had gotten a reduced sentence for naming Woodfox. Further, exculpatory information about the physical evidence in the case, bloodstains, was withheld from the jury.

While Woodfox waits for a prosecutor's decision on his future, another Black Panther in the Nebraska State Penitentiary, Ed Poindexter, waits for a ruling from the Nebraska Supreme Court on his request for a new trial. Poindexter and fellow Panther activist Mondo we Langa (formerly David Rice) were convicted in April 1971 for the bombing murder of Omaha police officer Larry Minard.

Unlike Woodfox, who was an inmate at the time of his alleged crime, Poindexter and Langa were free and officers in the Nebraska Committee to Combat Fascism and were Omaha's most vocal police critics. On August 17, 1970, police were lured to a vacant house investigating a report of a woman screaming when a bomb killed Minard and injured seven other police officers. Within two days of the bombing, J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who had targeted the Black Panthers for dirty tricks, ordered Ivan Willard Conrad, director of the FBI national crime laboratory to withhold information that was not favorable to the prosecution of Poindexter and Langa for Minard's murder.

Hoover was at war with the Black Panthers and secretly directed a clandestine "no holds barred" operation code-named COINTELPRO to put the group out of existence. Using illegal tactics, FBI agents engaged in a nationwide campaign that encouraged violence, planted evidence, withheld evidence, obtained false arrests, and a host of other measures that would later be denounced by the U.S. Senate Select Committee to Study Government Operations commonly known as the Church Committee.

At question in the Minard killing was the identify of the unknown caller who made the emergency call to police headquarters. Hidden for years behind a secrecy stamp, Omaha Asst. Chief of Police Glen W. Gates, in a confidential COINTELPRO memo to Hoover, asked the FBI to abandon the search for the killer who made the call because it might "prejudice the police murder trial" against Poindexter and Langa.

Ultimately a 15 year-old, Duane Peak, confessed to the crime and claimed he made the phone call and that Poindexter and Langa put him up to the murder. Peak's story falls apart if someone else made the deadly call. The tape recording, which was withheld from the jury that convicted the two Panther leaders, did not sound like Peak but rather captured the voice of an older man.

The tape was destroyed by local authorities after the trial only to have a duplicate recording emerge years later. The duplicate tape was subjected to modern vocal analysis in 2006 and expert Tom Owens has testified the voice on the tape is not that of Peak, thus leaving an unidentified accomplice on the loose.

Poindexter is seeking a new trial over the withheld evidence and the Nebraska Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the case this week. No date has been set for a decision. Poindexter and Langa are serving life sentences at the Nebraska State Penitentiary. Both men deny any involvement in the crime.

1 comment:

william said...

Black Panthers in Nebraska and Louisiana have spend more than three decades in prison for crimes they did not committ. Read updates on the cases of men who are victims of the FBI's notorious COINTELPRO program.
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