Freedom After 40 Years in Solitary?

Supporters of one of the Angola 3 tell The Root why he might be released this time.

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"We had a jury of angry white men in 1972," Nicholas Trenticosta, a lawyer from New Orleans who mostly handles death-penalty cases and is representing Woodfox, told The Root. " ... Pure, flat-out racism is driving this train."

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To amplify what the Angola 3's supporters say was the prevailing racial climate at the prison, they point to a 2008 court hearing during which Trenticosta questioned Burl Cain, installed in 1995 as Angola's warden and widely viewed as a prison reformer who has overseen a decline in violence at Angola.

Trenticosta: OK. What is it about Albert Woodfox that gives you such concern?

Cain: The thing about him is that he wants to demonstrate. He wants to organize. He wants to be defiant.

Trenticosta: Well, let me ask you this. Let's just, for the sake of argument, assume, if you can, that he is not guilty of the murder of [officer] Brent Miller.

Cain: OK. I would still keep him in [solitary]. I still know he has a propensity for violence. 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 [whites] chasing after them. I would have chaos and conflict, and I believe that. He has to stay in a cell while he's at Angola.

While Judge James Brady of U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge, where Woodfox's request for release is on the docket, is prohibited from commenting on cases before him, court watchers say that he is keenly aware of the racial dynamics of the Angola 3's case and the constitutional issues it raises. (Brady issued the 2008 order for Woodfox's release.)

"In 2008 Judge Brady ruled they should release [Woodfox]. I have no reason to believe Judge Brady will not rule the same way today as he did back then," said attorney Angela Allen-Bell of Baton Rouge's Southern University Law Center, a member of Free the Angola 3, a coalition of human rights groups -- including Amnesty International -- corporate moguls, philanthropists, grassroots activists and others who are helping to pay legal fees related to their cause.

If Woodfox wins his petition for a writ of habeas corpus -- Latin for "you have the body," a maneuver that does not address the question of innocence or guilt -- he could be retried. Or, as his lawyers are banking on, he could reach a settlement with state prosecutors, who retained a private New Orleans firm to handle the case, that would permanently end his incarceration.

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