† Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.
The Campaign to Free the Angola 3 Intensifies
–Amnesty International responds to Albert Woodfox’s third overturned conviction
By Angola 3 News
(The video embedded above is a trailer for an upcoming UK documentary film about the Angola 3.)
Last week, on February 26, District Court Judge Brady released a 34-page ruling that granted habeas to Albert on the issue of racial discrimination in the selection of the grand jury foreperson for his 1998 retrial. This decision now overturns Albert’s conviction for a third time.
In his ruling, Judge Brady reviewed the arguments of both sides and concluded that Albert’s team used the correct baseline for comparison, and that using that baseline, the discrimination is statistically significant no matter which tests are used. It was the State’s burden in these proceedings to prove that there was a race neutral procedure in place for selecting forepersons. Judge Brady agreed with Albert that the State failed to do this.
Just as when Judge Brady overturned Albert’s conviction in 2008, and the State successfully appealed to the Fifth Circuit to reverse Brady’s ruling, the State has announced it will again seek to reverse Brady’s decision on appeal. Therefore, nothing is certain except that the legal team and A3 supporters will not stop fighting until this ruling is affirmed by the 5th Circuit and Albert is finally a free man. This is an important victory, thanks in no small part to the efforts of our supporters. We have created an A3 flyer to assist with outreach at this critical time for Albert, that can be viewed/downloaded here.
Following Brady’s ruling, things have been heating up, with A3 media coverage from Amy Goodman, with her Truthdig column, as well as on the Democracy Now radio/tv program she co-hosts with Juan Gonzalez. In her column, Goodman wrote:
Woodfox and Wallace founded the Angola chapter of the Black Panther Party in 1971, and were engaged in organizing against segregation, inhumane working conditions and the systemic rape and sexual slavery inflicted on many imprisoned in Louisiana’s Angola.
“Herman and Albert and other folks recognized the violation of human rights in prison, and they were trying to achieve a better prison and living conditions,” Robert King told me last year. “And as a result of that, they were targeted.” King is the third member of the Angola 3, and the only one among them to have finally won his freedom, in 2001.
King went on: “There is no rationale why they should be held in solitary confinement—or, for that matter, in prison. This is a double whammy. We are dealing with a double whammy here. We are not just focusing on Herman’s and Albert’s civil- or human-rights violation, but there is question also as to whether or not they committed this crime. All the evidence has been undermined in this case.” Since his release, King has been fighting for justice for Wallace and Woodfox, traveling around the U.S. and to 20 countries, as well as addressing the European Parliament.
The Democracy Now segment featured Robert King and the longtime A3 supporter and former prisoner Mwalimu Johnson. Towards the end, in response to Amy Goodman’s question, King provides more background on what motivated the Angola 3 to organize a Panther chapter at Angola Prison.
AMY GOODMAN: Robert King, you all three were members of the Black Panther Party. It wasn’t a year later that Wallace and Woodfox were convicted of killing a prison guard. You hear even Teenie Verret, the widow of the guard, questioning whether in fact they were guilty. The significance of what you did within the prison, the organizing as a Black Panther?
ROBERT KING: Well, we think that’s because—you know, I entered the prison some months after Herman and Albert, and they placed me in solitary confinement, the same area in which they had placed Albert and Herman. And we felt the need to organize because, after all, we considered ourselves victims, not helpless victims, but we were victims. And we understood that the reason why we were being prosecuted or persecuted—and I know this is the reason why I was being placed in a cell, because I was a member of the Black Panther Party.
So I think it was incumbent upon us to try to change some of the strategy and the tactics that the state—in which they utilized rules and means and the legal means to further dehumanize people. So we engaged in some protests. We tried to educate some of our former prisoners about what was going on. And it was, again, incumbent upon us to not see ourselves—to see ourselves as victims, but not helpless victims. We wanted to do something about this, and this is why we established the teachings that we did, and this is why I joined Herman and Albert.
Amnesty International Responds
In a press release dated February 27, Amnesty International declared that the “State of Louisiana Must Not Appeal Federal Ruling Overturning Conviction in Angola 3 Case.” This support from Amnesty International is very important, and we are working to circulate their statement. Below is an excerpt.
(BATON ROUGE) – Amnesty International called on Louisiana Attorney General James Caldwell today not to appeal a federal court ruling overturning the conviction of Albert Woodfox of the ‘Angola 3’ for the second-degree murder of a prison guard in 1972. Amnesty International has raised serious human rights concerns over the case for many years…
Amnesty International has repeatedly expressed concern that many legal aspects of this case are troubling: no physical evidence links Woodfox and Wallace to the murder, potentially exculpatory DNA evidence was lost by the state, and their conviction was based on questionable testimony – much of which subsequently retracted by witnesses. In recent years, evidence has emerged that the main eyewitness was bribed by prison officials into giving statements against the men. Both men have robustly denied over the years any involvement in the murder.
Woodfox has been held since his conviction over 40 years ago in solitary confinement. The extremely harsh conditions he has endured, including being confined for 23 hours a day, inadequate access to exercise, social interaction and no access to work, education, or rehabilitation have had physical and psychological consequences. Throughout his incarceration, Woodfox has been denied any meaningful review of the reasons for being kept in isolation; and records indicate that he hasn’t committed any disciplinary infractions for decades, nor, according to prison mental health records, is he a threat to himself or others. Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the authorities that both he and Wallace be removed from such conditions which the organization believes can only be described as cruel, inhuman and degrading.
“The fact that Woodfox’s conviction has been overturned again gives weight to Amnesty International’s longstanding concerns that the original legal process was flawed,” said Tessa Murphy, an Amnesty researcher.
Contact: Suzanne Trimel, firstname.lastname@example.org, 212-633-4150, @AIUSAmedia
(Below is a video made about the Angola 3, by Amnesty International, featuring Robert King.)
–Angola 3 News is a project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is www.angola3news.com where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. We are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more.