The last of three black inmates who spent decades in solitary confinement in Louisiana’s notorious Angola prison was released on Friday after pleading no contest to manslaughter in the 1972 death of a prison guard, raising his fist in a salute as he left the jail.
Albert Woodfox served four decades in solitary confinement, more than any prisoner in U.S. history, according to his attorneys, after being convicted of killing white prison guard Brent Miller at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.
Woodfox and his co-defendant, Herman Wallace, said they were charged in retaliation for founding a prison chapter of the Black Panther Party. They and a third inmate came to be known as the Angola 3.
Woodfox, who turned 69 on Friday, maintains his innocence, but said concerns about his health and age “caused me to resolve this case now and obtain my release.”
Among his first actions as a free man will be to visit the gravesites of loved ones, Woodfox said Friday as he addressed a crowd that included Robert King, the third member of the Angola 3, who also said he was targeted for his activism with the Black Panthers.
“I need to go say goodbye to my mother,” Woodfox said. “I wasn’t allowed to go to her funeral when I was in Angola, and my sister as well.”
Miller family members told the Louisiana Advocate newspaper that they were not allowed to be involved in the deal.
“I don’t feel the Miller family had any choice in it,” Wanda Callender, the guard’s younger sister, told the newspaper. “We feel this was slammed in our face.”
In addition to manslaughter, Woodfox pleaded no contest to aggravated burglary. The deal with prosecutors came together Thursday night, Woodfox’s attorney said. His brother picked him up Friday from the West Feliciana Parish Jail.
A civil claim on Woodfox’s behalf related to the more than four decades he spent in prison in isolation is set for trial in June and will continue to move forward, attorney George Kendall said.
“There’s nobody else who’s been through what he’s been through,” Kendall said.
Of the two other men known as the Angola 3, Wallace was released from prison in 2013 and died three days later. King had been placed in solitary for a crime unrelated to Miller’s killing. He was released from prison in 2001 after 29 years in solitary.
Woodfox had legal proceedings pending in state and federal courts, attorneys said. He was convicted twice of Miller’s murder, but both convictions were ultimately thrown out in court.
Louisiana state prosecutors had sought to try him a third time.
Woodfox spent most of the time in a 6-by-9-foot- (1.8-by-2.7-meter-) cell in a prison that was once a part of a Deep South plantation and was known for seething racial tensions and harsh treatment of inmates.
SOURCE: Reuters, Bryn Stole