Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Free Albert Woodfox: Ruling Delayed on Political Prisoner's Release Request

Ruling delayed on inmate's release request

Angola prisoner, 61, in bad health

Advocate Baker - Zachary bureau
Published: Oct 15, 2008

Attorneys for Angola inmate Albert Woodfox argued Tuesday that the 61-year-old suspect in a prison security guard's 1972 death should be allowed to live with his niece's family in a gated Slidell community pending further developments in his case.

Woodfox suffers from high blood pressure, diabetes and renal disease, and would be irreparably harmed if not released on bail, attorney Nick Trenticosta told U.S. District Judge James J. Brady, who did not immediately rule on the request.

Trenticosta said Woodfox's medical condition was aggravated by more than 30 years of solitary confinement he and two other Angola inmates endured until their move to a less restrictive setting earlier this year. Trenticosta said Woodfox is not a flight risk but is willing to abide by any conditions of bail the court would set, including home incarceration or electronic monitoring.

Woodfox, who was affiliated with the Black Panther movement, was convicted of murder in 1973 and again in 1998 in the April 1972 stabbing death of Angola security officer Brent Miller during a period of unrest in the state's largest prison. Both convictions were overturned, with Brady reversing the 1998 conviction and life sentence last month.

The state, through Attorney General James "Buddy" Caldwell's office, is appealing Brady's ruling and is asking the judge to stay his order that the state either retry Woodfox within 120 days or dismiss the charge. Assistant Attorney General Dana Cummings argued against Woodfox's release, telling Brady the former New Orleans resident had been convicted of aggravated battery, armed robbery and aggravated escape before he was twice convicted of murder.

Brady noted, however, that both of the murder convictions have been overturned and asked Cummings how the state would be "irreparably injured" if Woodfox goes free before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals renders a decision. "If he goes out and kills one of our witnesses, we're irreparably injured," Cummings replied, briefly drawing low murmurs from Woodfox supporters in the audience.

Cummings also argued that Woodfox is a flight risk. "He has every interest to flee: we're going to try him again," Cummings told the judge. Brady agreed to delay his ruling to allow the attorneys to take testimony from Angola Warden Burl Cain and a San Francisco physician who gave a report on Woodfox's medical conditions.

Trenticosta, paraphrasing Cain's testimony about Woodfox in a separate federal case, said Woodfox "could almost be considered a model prisoner," but Cummings said she wanted to be able to cross-examine the warden. Rheneisha Robertson, a nonprofit health organization director and wife of former professional football player Bernard Robertson, told the court Woodfox, her uncle, could live with her family in the Oak Harbor area of Slidell.

Trenticosta said Woodfox would be living in a stable environment. "There's no riff-raff in that community," he said. Michael Mable, Woodfox's brother and Rheneisha Robertson's father, said he has visited him once a month since he was sent to Angola, finding that the prisoner has grown more compassionate during the course of 30 years. "He's an old man, and I love him," Mable said.

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