NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Louisiana’s attorney general disagreed on Friday with a federal court ruling overturning the conviction of the last of the prisoners known as the “Angola Three,” who has spent 42 years in solitary confinement.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans on Thursday affirmed a 2013 ruling that overturned the conviction of Albert Woodfox for the 1972 second-degree murder of a guard at the state prison at Angola.
Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell took issue with the decision, saying in a statement: “We respectfully disagree with the Court’s ruling, and remain committed to seeing that the trial jury’s judgment finding Albert Woodfox guilty ... is upheld.”
Caldwell said he was reviewing the opinion and that no court decision had disputed that Woodfox had murdered the guard.
The unanimous ruling by three members of the court cited evidence that racial discrimination may have tainted the selection of a grand jury foreperson in the case.
George Kendall, a New York lawyer who represents Woodfox, said that unless the Supreme Court intervened, the conviction was overturned. Louisiana would have to decide whether to retry the case, he said.
“Mr. Woodfox has been very severely punished, and enough’s enough,” Kendall said.
Woodfox and a co-defendant, Herman Wallace, both of them black, were imprisoned on an armed robbery charge in 1971. They maintained their innocence in the slaying of a white prison guard, Brent Miller.
They received life sentences and were placed in solitary confinement, as was a third man named Robert King.
Wallace and Woodfox had founded a prison chapter of the Black Panthers Party and organized inmate protests against conditions at the facility. They maintained their murder conviction was in retaliation for their activities.Woodfox, Wallace and King became known as the “Angola Three” after a law student years called attention to their decades in solitary confinement.
King was released from prison in 2001, and Wallace won his freedom in October 2013 after a federal judge overturned his conviction. He died of liver cancer three days later.
Thursday’s ruling marks the third time a court has overturned Woodfox’s murder conviction. The first two rulings, which related to failures by the defendant’s original lawyers, did not hold up.
Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Eric Walsh