Angola Three

The Angola Three
Louisiana State Penitentiary, the prison where the Angola Three were confined

The Angola Three are three former prison inmates (Robert King, Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace) who were put in solitary confinement in Louisiana State Penitentiary (also known as Angola Prison), in April 1972 after the killing of a corrections officer.

Robert King spent 29 years in solitary confinement before his conviction was overturned and he was released.[1] Wallace was released on October 1, 2013, after more than 41 years in prison. Woodfox's unconditional release was decided on June 10, 2015, after 43 years of solitary confinement. On November 20, 2014, Woodfox had his conviction overturned by the US Court of Appeals, and in April 2015, his lawyer applied for an unconditional writ for his release.[2][3] Albert Woodfox was released on February 19, 2016, after the prosecution agreed to drop the push for a retrial and accept his plea of no contest to lesser charges of burglary and manslaughter.[4]

The prisoners have been the subject of two documentary films[5] and international attention. In July 2013, Amnesty International called for the release of 71-year-old Herman Wallace, who had advanced liver cancer.[6] He was released October 1, 2013, re-indicted on October 3, 2013,[7] and died on October 4, 2013, before he could be re-arrested.[8]


Initial imprisonment

The three men were sent to Angola in 1971 after a conviction for armed robbery.[9] Woodfox escaped from a Louisiana courthouse during his sentencing for armed robbery and joined the Black Panther Party.[10] As members of the prison's chapter of the Black Panthers, Wallace and Woodfox became activists seeking to improve conditions in Angola.[9] They helped organize petitions and hunger strikes to protest segregation within the prison, and to end widespread rape and violence.[11]

Woodfox and Wallace were convicted of the 1972 stabbing murder of 23-year-old prison guard Brent Miller.[12] (King was said by authorities to be linked to the murder but was not charged.[13]) According to a July 2013 press release by Amnesty International, Woodfox and Wallace were "convicted of the murder of a prison guard in 1973, yet no physical evidence links them to the crime – potentially exculpatory DNA evidence has been lost and the testimony of the main eyewitness has been discredited. Citing racial discrimination, misconduct by the prosecution, and inadequate defense, state and federal judges overturned Woodfox’s conviction three times, while Wallace’s case is once again up for review before the federal courts."[6]

The three men were taken out of the general prison population and were held in solitary confinement after Miller's murder in 1972.[12]

Rahim and Fleming investigation

In 1997, former Black Panther member Malik Rahim, of Common Ground Collective, along with law student Scott Fleming, discovered that King, Wallace, and Woodfox were still incarcerated. They initiated an investigation of the case, questioning the assertions of the original investigations at Angola and raising questions about the prisoners' original trials.

As a result, King was released in 2001, following 29 years in solitary confinement. His first conviction was overturned and he pleaded guilty to a lesser conspiracy to commit murder charge. Woodfox and Wallace remained in prison at Angola prison and continued fighting for their release at the time.

Appeals and transfers

In March 2008, Woodfox and Wallace were moved after 36 years, from solitary confinement to a maximum security dormitory.[14]

Albert Woodfox had two appeal hearings (one in November 2008 and one in May 2010), which resulted in his conviction being overturned and his being granted full habeas corpus. Both appeals were overturned. Immediately after the first in November 2008, both men were moved out of the dormitory, separated and placed back in isolation and in March 2009. Wallace, along with a group of 15 inmates from Angola, was moved to Elayn Hunt Correctional Center where a closed cell isolation tier was created for the first time. In November 2010, Albert was moved to David Wade Correctional Center, which is seven hours north of his family and supporters.

In March 2013, a federal District Court judge in New Orleans overturned Woodfox’s conviction for the third time. However, Louisiana Attorney General James Caldwell promised to appeal the District Court’s decision to the more conservative Fifth Circuit, saying, “We feel confident that we will again prevail at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. However, if we do not, we are fully prepared and willing to retry this murderer again.”[15]

On November 20, 2014, the Fifth Circuit judges upheld the lower court’s opinion that Woodfox’s conviction was secured through racially discriminatory means. The three-judge panel found unanimously that the selection of the grand-jury foreperson in the 1993 trial formed part of a discriminatory pattern in that area of Louisiana. Concluding that it amounted to a violation of the US Constitution, the judges struck down Woodfox’s conviction. The state of Louisiana refused to release him, however, and his guards refused to unshackle him or release him from solitary confinement.[2] On February 12, 2015, Woodfox was re-indicted.[16]

On June 8, 2015, U.S. District Judge James Brady ordered the release of Woodfox and overturned the second conviction for the killing of the guard. The order also bars a third trial from taking place.[17][18][19] Four days later, a federal appeals court overturned Brady's decision and ordered that Woodfox would remain in prison until the matter was resolved.[20]

Both men, whose original armed robbery sentences have expired, allegedly suffered from a range of different medical issues—some due in part to their reported conditions of confinement and their enforced sedentary lifestyle. Prisons officials long maintained that the reason for keeping Wallace and Woodfox in solitary confinement was out of concern that they would instigate a prison uprising.[21] Woodfox was later released in February 2016 after pleading no contest to lesser charges of manslaughter and aggravated burglary.[4]

Herman Wallace's release

Amnesty International called for Herman Wallace's release in July 2013 on humanitarian grounds, saying, "Wallace is 71 years old and has advanced liver cancer. After decades of cruel conditions and a conviction that continues to be challenged by the courts, he should be released immediately to his family so that he can be cared for humanely during his last months."[6] On October 1, 2013, Wallace was granted immediate release by U.S. District Chief Judge Brian A. Jackson of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, ending Wallace's forty-year incarceration in solitary confinement. Wallace was brought to a close friend's house, who he had been in contact with, in New Orleans after being released from Angola.[22] The state appealed the judge's orders, seeking to keep Wallace in prison. The office of East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore appealed Judge Jackson's order, to which Jackson replied with a threat of contempt of court.[23]

On October 3, 2013, a West Feliciana Parish grand jury re-indicted Wallace for the 1972 murder of the corrections officer.[24]

Herman Wallace died on October 4, 2013, just three days after being released from prison. Jackie Sumell, an artist and Wallace supporter who was with him at the Louisiana State University Medical Center in New Orleans after his release, remarked, "This is a tremendous victory and a miracle that Herman Wallace will die a free man." She continued, "He’s had 42 years of maintaining his innocence in solitary confinement, and if his last few breaths are as a free man, we’ve won."[8]

Albert Woodfox's release

Amnesty International called for the release of Woodfox after the last of the two Angola Three were released from prison.[25] He had been held in solitary confinement since 1972.

Woodfox was released from prison in February 2016, after spending 43 years in solitary confinement.[26]

Popular interest

Their cases have gained increased interest over the last few years. Since his release, King has worked to build international recognition for the Angola 3. He has spoken before the parliaments of the Netherlands, France, Portugal, Indonesia, Brazil and United Kingdom about the case, and about political prisoners in the United States. King was received as a guest and dignitary by the African National Congress in South Africa, and has spoken with Desmond Tutu. Amnesty International has added them to their watch list of "political prisoners"/"prisoners of conscience."

The Angola 3 have been the subject of two documentary films. A 2006 documentary film 3 Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation and of a music video produced by Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics in protest of the incarceration of the Angola 3 features Saul Williams, Nadirah X, Asdru Sierra, Dana Glover, Tina Schlieske, Derrick Ashong and Stewart.[27] The song "The Rise of the Black Messiah," written by Amy Ray and performed by Indigo Girls, was released in 2015 and inspired by the Angola 3.[28]

A 2010 documentary of them, In the Land of the Free, was directed by Vadim Jean and narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. The film features Robert King, telephone interviews with Woodfox and Wallace, and interviews with attorneys and others involved with the cases – including the widow of Brent Miller, who believes the men are innocent of her husband's murder.

Herman Wallace was the subject of an ongoing socio-political art project entitled "The House That Herman Built", in which artist Jackie Sumell asked Wallace what his dream home would be like, documenting his response in various media.[29] In 2012, Angad Singh Bhalla's film Herman's House, a feature-length documentary about Sumell's project, was released.[30]

They had a pending civil suit, Wilkerson, Wallace and Woodfox vs. the State of Louisiana, which the United States Supreme Court ruled has merit to proceed to trial based on the assertion that their more than three decades of solitary confinement is "inhumane and unconstitutional".

Opposition to the release of the Angola Three

There are strong opponents of the inmates' release. Louisiana’s Attorney General, James Caldwell, has stated that he opposes releasing the two men “with every fiber of my being,”[31] and that they have never been held in solitary confinement but are in "protective cell units known as CCR [Closed Cell Restricted]".[15] The warden of Angola and Hunt prisons, Burl Cain, has repeatedly suggested that Woodfox and Wallace must be held in solitary because they subscribe to “Black Pantherism.”[31][32]

Notes and references

  1. Ed Pilkington. "Forty years in solitary: two men mark sombre anniversary in Louisiana prison". the Guardian.
  2. 1 2 Ed Pilkington. "America's longest-serving solitary confinement prisoner has conviction quashed". the Guardian.
  3. "Albert Woodfox could possibly be freed without a retrial after 4 decades in solitary".
  4. 1 2 Robertson, Campbell (February 19, 2016). "Last 'Angola 3' Inmate Freed After Decades in Solitary". The New York Times. Retrieved February 19, 2016.
  5. "Watch The Angola 3, the Documentary by Jimmy O'Halligan - Fandor". Fandor.
  6. 1 2 3 "Amnesty International Appeals for Release of Terminally Ill 'Angola 3' Prisoner, after 40 Years in Solitary Confinement". July 10, 2013. Amnesty International. Retrieved 27 August 2013.
  7. "Dying Angola 3 member Herman Wallace reindicted, report says".
  8. 1 2 "Breaking: Herman Wallace Dies Just Days After Being Released from 40+ Years in Solitary". Democracy Now!.
  9. 1 2 Ridgeway, James; Jean Casella (June 26, 2013). "Angola 3's Herman Wallace Is Gravely Ill—But Still on Permanent Lockdown". Mother Jones. Retrieved 27 August 2013.
  10. James, Erwin (9 March 2010). "37 years of solitary confinement: the Angola three". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 August 2013.
  11. Ridgeway, James; Jean Casella (December 29, 2009). "Southern Injustice". Mother Jones (November/December 2009). Retrieved 2 October 2013.
  12. 1 2 "Doubts Arise About 1972 Angola Prison Murder". NPR. 2008-10-27.
  13. "Lawyers call for release of 'Angola 3,' nearly 36 years after guard's murder". Times Picayune. 2008-03-17.
  14. 'Angola 2' Leave Solitary Cells in La. After 36 Years March 27, 2008
  15. 1 2 Ridgeway, James (21 March 2013). "Louisiana Attorney General Says Angola 3 'Have Never Been Held in Solitary Confinement'". Solitary Watch. Retrieved 28 August 2013.
  16. "Angola 3 member Albert Woodfox indicted for 3rd time in 1972 murder of prison guard".
  17. "'Angola Three' inmate to be freed after 43 years in solitary confinement in US". BBC News. 9 June 2015.
  18. "Ed Pilkington on Twitter". Twitter.
  19. Melanie Eversley, USA TODAY (8 June 2015). "Louisiana inmate, last of Angola 3, ordered free after 43 years in solitary". USA TODAY.
  20. Mark Berman (June 12, 2015). "Appeals court says last 'Angola 3' prisoner must remain behind bars". Washington Post. Retrieved June 13, 2015.
  21. Michael Kunzelman and Kevin McGill. "Last of 'Angola Three' Inmates Released, Thanks Supporters". Associated Press. Retrieved February 20, 2016.
  22. "Herman Wallace dies at 71; ex-inmate held in solitary for 41 years". LA Times. Retrieved 1 March 2016.
  23. "Attorney: Terminally ill 'Angola 3' inmate is released". CNN. Retrieved 2 October 2013.
  24. Amber Stegall (3 October 2013). "Released 71-year-old Angola 3 member indicted again for 1972 murder - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports".
  25. Almasy, Steve. "Angola 3 Albert Woodfox released". Retrieved February 20, 2016.
  26. Ed Pilkington (February 19, 2016). "Albert Woodfox released from jail after 43 years in solitary confinement | US news". The Guardian. Retrieved February 20, 2016.
  27. "Angola 3".
  28. "Indigo Girls are Spreading Pain Around". Pop Matters. Retrieved 18 August 2016.
  29. "The project that inspired the film - Herman's House". Herman's House.
  30. "Home - Herman's House". Herman's House.
  31. 1 2 Ridgeway, James (October 9, 2009). "Angola 3 Appeal Denied". Mother Jones. Retrieved 27 August 2013.
  32. Ridgeway, James (21 March 2013). "Louisiana Attorney General Says Angola 3 'Have Never Been Held in Solitary Confinement'". Solitary Watch. Retrieved 28 August 2013. In a 2008 deposition, attorneys for Woodfox asked Cain, 'Let’s just for the sake of argument assume, if you can, that he is not guilty of the murder of Brent Miller.' Cain responded, 'Okay, I would still keep him in CCR… I still know that he is still trying to practice Black Pantherism, and I still would not want him walking around my prison because he would organize the young new inmates. I would have me all kind of problems, more than I could stand, and I would have the blacks chasing after them.'

Further reading

External links

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