The Angola 3 are political prisoners, two of whom are still being held in the state of Louisiana. All three are former members of the Black Panther Party. Their appeal was denied by the Louisiana Supreme Court on October 9, 2009., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Terminally ill Angola 3 member granted immediate release; state to appeal ruling
Herman Wallace, 71, has been living with advanced liver cancer at Elayn Hunt Correctional Facility since his diagnosis in June 2013. On Oct. 1, District Judge Brian A. Jackson ordered his immediate release.
The Times Picayune
A judge in Baton Rouge has ordered the immediate release of Herman Wallace, a terminally ill member of the Angola 3 who spent more than four decades in solitary confinement in Louisiana's prisons.
Because there were no women on the jury, Judge Brian A. Jackson said in his ruling that the former Black Panther and New Orleans native did not receive a fair trial for the 1972 stabbing murder of an Angola prison guard. Nearly 40 years after his conviction, Jackson vacated the grand jury indictment and ordered Wallace's release.
But the state could, and will, attempt to block his release. Although Jackson's ruling overturns Wallace's conviction, the state has 30 days to notify the courts that they plan to re-indict him.
"I have the utmost respect for Judge Jackson. We respectfully disagree with his decision," Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore said Tuesday after the ruling. His office is currently in the process of filing an appeal with the 5th Circuit Court and will ask both Jackson and the circuit court to delay Wallace's release until the appeal is heard.
Jackson's ruling was in response to a writ of habeas corpus Wallace filed claiming that he did not receive a fair trial and was therefore being held illegally by the state. Earlier this month, a magistrate judge recommended that Jackson strike down Wallace's writ, but Jackson decided Tuesday to go in the opposite direction.
"Wallace's grand jury was improperly chosen in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of the equal protection of the laws" - Judge Jackson
"The record in this case makes clear that Mr. Wallace's grand jury was improperly chosen in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of the equal protection of the laws...and that the Louisiana courts, when presented with the opportunity to correct this error, failed to do so," Jackson's ruling read.
It is unclear whether Wallace will survive much longer if he is released from Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel, where he was recently moved to the hospital wing fro solitary confinement. He was diagnosed with advanced liver cancer earlier this year and recently said he only had two months to live.
Kendall and Nick Trenticosta, another lawyer acting on behalf of Wallace and his fellow Angola 3 members, said it's probably more a matter of weeks, not months.
Amnesty International Executive Director Steven W. Hawkins said he was happy with Jackson's ruling, but added, "tragically, this step toward justice has come as Herman is dying from cancer with only days or hours left to live. No ruling can erase the cruel, inhuman and degrading prison conditions he endured for more than 41 years."
Wallace's legal team said litigation into his "unconstitutional confinement in solitary...for four decades will continue under his name." Wallace along with fellow Black Panther Albert Woodfox were both implicated in the savage stabbing death of Angola prison guard Brent Miller in the early 1970s.
To this day, both Wallace and Woodfox insist they are innocent of Miller's murder and say their conviction came solely as a result of their involvement with the Black Panther movement. Both men had been key in forming the first local chapter of the Black Panthers at Angola and advocating against the culture of violence and rape pervasive there at the time.
They also contend prison officials promised other inmates special treatment if they testified against the two men.
After the murder and their convictions, they were placed in solitary. A third inmate, Robert King, aka Robert King Wilkerson, was later tangentially tied to the murder, though he was not an inmate at Angola at the time. He was also placed in solitary confinement.
Together they came to be known as "The Angola Three" after a fellow Black Panther member was the first to discover their decades in isolation in the late 1990s. King was released with the help of inmate rights activists in 2001 after 29 years.
Woodfox still remains in solitary and is currently seeking a restraining order against the state for daily strip and cavity searches he undergoes at David Wade Correctional Center in Homer.
Lauren McGaughy is a state politics reporter based in Baton Rouge. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @lmcgaughy.