Murder Conviction Overturned After 36 Years in Solitary

Judge tosses the murder conviction of former Black Panther Albert Woodfox.

ByABC News
March 12, 2009, 5:00 PM

July 9, 2008— -- A man who spent 36 years in solitary confinement for killing a prison guard is one step closer to freedom after a federal judge overturned his murder conviction late Tuesday. The Louisiana Attorney General plans to appeal.

"We are currently reviewing the ruling by the federal district court and are taking the steps necessary to perfect our appeal of the matter to the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Since this is a matter in litigation, we will not comment further on the specifics of this case," said Attorney General James D. "Buddy" Caldwell Wednesday.

Woodfox's lawyers are calling for the state not to pursue an appeal and to release Woodfox immediately.

"The state has already stolen nearly four decades of Albert Woodfox's life," said lead attorney Nick Trenticosta. "The injustice in this case is unfathomable. How can Louisiana continue to imprison a 61 year-old man after a federal judge has ruled that he shouldn't have been convicted in the first place?"

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) released a statement following the ruling commending the court's ruling, saying it "has taken the appropriate steps to right a terrible wrong and overturn the conviction of Albert Woodfox."

U.S. District Judge James Brady said yesterday in overturning the conviction that Woodfox's attorneys failed to object to testimony by a state prosecutor at his second trial, after his first conviction for killing prison guard Brent Miller was thrown out.

In 1998, John W. Sinquefield, the prosecutor at the original trial in 1973, testified about the character of the state's lead witness, who had died between trials. Woodfox's attorneys didn't always object.

"For this reason, among others," Brady said, "the magistrate judge was correct in finding the Plaintiff's counsel deficient." The judge in the Federal Court in the Middle District of Louisiana also said the state's objection referenced records that had not been entered into court.

"This court refuses to entertain a claim based on alleged evidence not in the provided record," Brady said.