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by James Tweedie
HUMAN rights groups welcomed a court order yesterday to free Angola Three inmate Albert Woodfox after 43 years of solitary confinement in the United States.
Baton Rouge district judge James Brady ordered the release of Mr Woodfox and took the extraordinary step of barring Louisiana prosecutors from trying him for a third time.
Mr Woodfox was originally jailed for armed robbery in 1971, but he escaped from the courthouse during his sentencing hearing and joined the Black Panther Party.
He was recaptured and sent to the Angola prison, named after a nearby former slave plantation, where he met Robert King and Herman Wallace.
The Angola Three, as they became known, founded a prison branch of the Black Panthers and campaigned for improvements to prison conditions, organising prison strikes and other protests.
In 1972 Mr Woodfox and Mr Wallace were convicted of the murder of prison guard Brent Miller, a crime which they always denied, and placed in indefinite solitary confinement.
Mr Woodfox has been tried and convicted twice for the guard’s death, but both convictions were overturned.
Judge Brady said the “exceptional circumstances” of the case had led him to bar the state from seeking a third trial.
In his ruling, he cited doubts that the state could provide a “fair third trial,” Mr Woodfox’s age and poor health, the unavailability of witnesses, “the prejudice done onto Mr Woodfox by spending over 40 years in solitary confinement,” and “the very fact that Mr Woodfox has already been tried twice.”
Mr Wallace died in October 2013, just days after being released from the prison.
Mr King, who was also solitarily confined in 1972, was convicted of murdering another prisoner in 1973, only to be released in 2001.
The International Coalition to Free the Angola Three’s Tory Pegram, who had worked with Mr Woodfox’s lawyers on his release, said they were all “thrilled that justice has come for our innocent friend.”
A spokesman for the Louisiana attorney general said the state would appeal against Judge Brady’s ruling “to make sure this murderer stays in prison and remains fully accountable for his actions.”
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