Today, Louisiana Attorney General James Caldwell has the chance to end a nightmare.
More than four decades ago, two young black men were convicted of the murder of a prison guard at Louisiana’s infamous Angola prison. The life sentence handed down to Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace would not only put the men behind bars – it would plunge them into a nightmare of cruel inhuman and degrading treatment for the next 41 years of their lives.
Despite the fact that no evidence tied Woodfox or Wallace to the crime, the two men were placed in solitary confinement after their 1972 conviction; 23 hours a day isolated in a small cell, four steps long, three steps across. Robert King, who was investigated for the crime, but charged and convicted instead of the murder of a prison inmate, was “lucky” to be released after 29 years of this dehumanizing treatment. The other two members of the so-called “Angola 3” have remained there, waiting for the arc of the universe to bend slowly toward justice.
On February 26, 2013, a federal district court voted to overturn the conviction of Albert Woodfox on the basis of racial discrimination in the selection of the grand jury foreperson. In the past 41 years, other significant flaws in the legal process have also come to light, including prosecutorial misconduct, the disappearance of potentially exculpatory evidence, evidence that the state paid for key eyewitness testimony in bribes and the retraction of other eyewitness testimony.
The Angola 3 believe that they were targeted for peacefully organizing their fellow prisoners. Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace were co-founders of the Angola chapter of the Black Panther Party and, with Albert King,they worked to combat inhumane treatment and racial segregation in Angola prison. Angola Prison’s warden, Burl Cain, has suggested that Woodfox and Wallace’s association with the Black Panthers is a major factor in their continued isolation.
Despite the many troubling legal aspects of this case, Louisiana Attorney General Caldwell has already filed his intention to appeal the court’s ruling – just as he has worked dogmatically to keep Woodfox behind bars every other time the courts have ruled in his favor.
But the time for justice is now – not in the years or months that it will take the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to rule on the case. Albert Woodfox is 66 years old. Years of isolation have taken a toll on his physical and psychological health; after four decades of cruelty, time is of the essence. The Attorney General can still do the right thing, and withdraw at any time. ACT NOW, and urge him to bring this nightmare to an end.
We call on the Attorney general with one simple request – make history. Do not appeal. Let the federal district court’s ruling stand, and ensure that Albert Woodfox is retried or released with no further delay.