Freedom After 40 Years in Solitary?

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

Albert Woodfox, Herman Wallace and Robert Hillary King (inthelandofthefreefilm.com)

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 Three’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.

The office of Louisiana Attorney General James D. “Buddy” Caldwell would not comment for this article.

The Cruelty of Solitary Confinement

As much as the Angola Three’s case spotlights such concerns as racial bias in jury selection, it brings to the fore the broad subject of solitary confinement in a nation that, according to 2005 U.S. Department of Justice data—the latest federal tally available—holds 80,000 prisoners under such terms on any given day.

“We’re asking the federal court to consider what’s taken place in the state, to consider that what happened with the jury is a constitutional violation and to set Woodfox free,” said Allen-Bell, author of the article “Perception Profiling & Prolonged Solitary Confinement Viewed Through the Lens of the Angola 3 Case.” “We’re also pushing to change the status quo.”

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