News is coming fast and furious about Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace, two members of the Angola 3 who are still being held in solitary confinement at Angola Prison in Louisiana after 30 years for the murder of a white prison guard. Attorneys for Woodfox filed an appeal on his behalf this week with such damning evidence of a state-sponsored frame-up, I am appalled that the media still refuses to take up the story. Witnesses were bribed or coerced, evidence was lost or unexamined, another man confessed; what does it take to prove innocence in the Land of the Free?
As you know, I've taken a great interest in seeing that justice is done in this case. When I visited New Orleans this past summer, I was honored to meet the legal team representing Woodfox and Wallace, a group of committed lawyers and investigators, feverishly preparing an appeal for Albert Woodfox. I knew at the time it would be an exciting moment when the appeal became public, especially since the new evidence is so overwhelming. Not only has the legal team uncovered new evidence that Albert and Herman are innocent, but their findings also support what Albert and Herman have said all these years -- that they were set up by prison officials in the early 1970s because of their political beliefs. Please read the following press release for details. I urge each of you to print it out and get your local media to cover this story.
NATIONAL COALITION TO FREE THE ANGOLA 3
October 28, 2002
ALBERT WOODFOX, IN HIS 31ST YEAR OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IN LOUISIANA, FILES NEW APPEAL PRESENTING OVERWHELMING NEW EVIDENCE OF INNOCENCE
Center for Equal Justice
New Orleans, Louisiana
NEW ORLEANS -- Albert Woodfox of the Angola 3, who has spent more than 30 years in solitary confinement at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, filed a new appeal this week in a Louisiana state court, seeking to prove his innocence and win his freedom.
Woodfox, 55, and his co-defendant and friend, Herman Wallace, 61, are both serving sentences of life without parole for the 1972 murder of a prison guard, Brent Miller. Both men have been held in solitary confinement since April 17, 1972, the day of the murder.
Woodfox and Wallace have always contended that they did not commit the murder and that they were falsely charged by prison officials. At the time, Woodfox and Wallace were leading activists among African-American prisoners seeking to improve conditions at the slave plantation-turned-prison, which was still racially segregated and notorious for shocking brutality and violence.
Woodfox's appeal, called an Application for Post-Conviction Relief, presents new evidence to support the mens' contentions. It was filed in the 21st Judicial District Court in Amite, Louisiana.
Woodfox has provided the court with sworn statements from two of three living prosecution witnesses, both of whom have now recanted their testimony against him and Wallace. Woodfox's attorneys have also obtained prosecution files which contain documents that prove that witnesses for the state lied under oath. In addition, Mr. Woodfox has identified new witnesses who state that a deceased Angola prisoner named Irvin Breaux confessed to the Miller murder.
The new court filing includes declarations from a number of preeminent experts in DNA testing and forensic sciences who state that new forensic procedures, unavailable in 1972, could be used to exonerate Woodfox and Wallace.
Among the claims Woodfox has submitted to the court:
* Billy Sinclair, a respected prison journalist who used to edit the award-winning prison magazine, The Angolite, states that Irvin Breaux, a friend of his, repeatedly told him that he had killed Miller and that Woodfox and Wallace were innocent. Breaux was stabbed to death at Angola in 1973.
* Howard Baker, a prisoner who testified in 1974 that he saw Herman Wallace leaving the scene of the murder, has signed a sworn affidavit stating that he testified falsely with the knowledge of prison officials who told him that they would commute his sentence. Baker now admits he was not near the murder scene and that he fabricated his testimony against Wallace.
* Leonard Turner, who reportedly agreed to implicate Woodfox and Wallace in the murder after then-Warden C. Murray Henderson threatened to revoke his parole and extend his sentence by 8 years, has provided Woodfox's attorneys with a statement indicating that he did witness the murder, and that Woodfox and Wallace were not involved.
* Joseph Richey, the third and final living witness, lied under oath at Woodfox's trial. Richey testified that he saw Woodfox, Wallace, and two other prisoners leaving the scene of the murder. Woodfox's attorneys have now discovered interrogation notes in police files that show Richey lied. On the day of the murder, Richey told investigators that he was in another part of the prison when the murder took place. He did not concoct his story about Woodfox and Wallace until a month later. After giving that statement to authorities, he was released from solitary confinement and transferred to minimum security at the Louisiana State Police barracks, where he worked at the Governor's mansion and enjoyed weekend furloughs. Richey was eventually returned to Angola after being convicted of robbing banks using stolen police cars while on minimum security status.
* In addition, Woodfox has retained the services of a number of recognized experts in DNA science, crime scene reconstruction, and fingerprint analysis. Collectively, they have identified a number of scientific tests, either not performed or unavailable in 1972, which could help to exonerate Woodfox and Wallace and identify the persons responsible for the murder. Woodfox plans to seek court orders requiring the state to produce the physical evidence collected in the case, including fingernail scrapings taken from the victim and possibly bloody clothing items. The state has previously claimed that the evidence in the case is "lost," but there is no indication any serious searches have ever been conducted.
Woodfox and Wallace hope that the new appeal, which adds to an already-large body of evidence pointing to their innocence, will lead to their release after spending three decades in prison under some of the harshest conditions imaginable. A growing movement of human rights activists, community organizers, and civil rights attorneys have been working to draw attention to their case.
Anita Roddick, the founder of the British cosmetics chain The Body Shop and a world-renowned human rights activist, has lent her support to the cause. "I hereby challenge the media: tell the story of the Angola 3. The truth just might set them free," Roddick said.
The third member of the Angola 3, Robert King Wilkerson, who proved his innocence and was released from prison in 2001 after serving 29 years in solitary confinement for an unrelated prison murder, is currently on a speaking tour of Europe, spreading the word about the continuing plight of Woodfox and Wallace.
Woodfox and Wallace are represented by Nick Trenticosta, one of the USA's leading anti-death penalty attorneys, of the Center for Equal Justice in New Orleans, and Scott Fleming, a civil rights lawyer from Oakland, California. The ACLU of Louisiana is representing the men in a civil rights lawsuit which seeks a court ruling that their 30-year stay in solitary confinement violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Electronic copies of the appeal brief (500k) are available upon request.
In other Angola 3 news, I wrote last week that prison officials placed Herman in an empty "punishment" cell monitored by a 24-hour surveillance camera after claiming some information he had in his cell was "racist." On Monday he was released from the dungeon back to the regular cells of the punishment camp called Camp J, where he's been held for more than six months. It's good news that he's out of the dungeon -- but terrible news that the harassment and ridiculous charges continue. Authorities still refuse to specify exactly what the offending materials are. Wallace has been lead to believe that at least one of the objectionable items is a copy of a program someone sent him from the 35-year reunion of the Black Panther Party, which was held earlier this year. As further punishment for his so-called "offense," Herman won't be allowed exercise for the next month, meaning his only time out of his cell will be 15 minutes a day to take a shower. When this 30-day sentence has passed, he'll still be stuck at Camp J. He has to wait until January to be considered for release back to CCR, the solitary unit where he has spent half of his 61 years.