The murder conviction of a man who was held in solitary confinement for 36 years has been officially overturned, following a lengthy legal back and forth between Louisiana prosecutors and defense attorneys.
District Court Judge James Brady entered his final judgment in the case yesterday, granting 61-year-old Albert Woodfox habeas corpus relief, after attorneys for Woodfox argued that prosecutors did not turn over potentially exculpatory evidence about a lead witness and that his former lawyer made mistakes at his trial. A petition for a writ of habeas corpus is a mechanism through which a person can seek relief from unlawful detention, and is often used when all other appeals have failed.
"He is absolutely elated," Woodfox's attorney Nick Trenticosta said of his client. When Trenticosta called Woodfox to tell him the news, he said to him, "Albert it sounds like you're drunk, and he said, 'I am drunk on justice.'"
Judge Brady issued his opinion overturning the conviction in July, which the state of Louisiana then appealed. This most recent judgment considered the state's appeal but ultimately rejected it, although the case is not over yet. The state now has 30 days to decide to retry Woodfox or dismiss the charges, while attorneys for Woodfox are calling on the state to drop any further actions.
"We call on the Attorney General to do the right thing," said Trenticosta. "To act as a reasonable public servant in the pursuit of justice…to allow Mr. Woodfox to go home today."
Trenticosta said he has made numerous attempts to meet with the Attorney General of Louisiana, James "Buddy" Caldwell, to discuss the case, but that those efforts have been refused.
"This is not a public servant who is trying to pursue justice," Trenticosta said of Caldwell. "This is a public servant who is trying once again to railroad an innocent man."
Caldwell is holding a press conference this afternoon and released a statement saying, "I vehemently but respectfully disagree with the Judge's ruling. We will appeal this decision to the 5th circuit. If the ruling is upheld there I will not stop and we will take this case as high as we have to. I will retry this case myself."
Concerning the call to release Woodfox, Caldwell said, "I oppose letting him out with every fiber of my being because this is a very dangerous man."
In 1972, Woodfox was serving a 50-year sentence for armed robbery when prison guard Brent Miller was murdered within prison walls. Woodfox was convicted of the murder based on the testimony of fellow inmate Hezekiah Brown.
Brown testified that he saw Woodfox and three other inmates murder the guard, but defense attorneys later found out through state records that the prison's warden began campaigning for a pardon for Brown and authorized the use of prison dollars to pay for an advertisement urging his clemency, which they say amounts to testimony for sale. At the time, Brown was serving a life term without parole after being taken off death row, according to court documents.
Woodfox alleges that he was framed by prison officials because he was a Black Panther and was advocating for prison reform.
The case attracted attention after Woodfox became known as one of the 'Angola Three' for being segregated for over three decades at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. Woodfox and Herman Wallace, who was convicted of murdering the same prison guard, were let out of solitary confinement in March. Wallace is currently appealing his murder conviction, while the third Angola Three member, Robert King, was released in 2001.