USA: Albert Woodfox’s imminent release, a triumph for human rights

The imminent release of Albert Woodfox, who has spent around 40 years in isolation after a flawed murder trial in Louisiana, is a long-awaited legal triumph, said Amnesty International today.
“In granting Albert Woodfox’s release the federal court has taken a significant step towards addressing the injustice and cruelty he has suffered for decades,” said Tessa Murphy, USA Campaigner at Amnesty International.

In a surprise turn, a judge yesterday issued an unconditional writ ordering Albert’s immediate release and barring a retrial. 

“This 68-year-old man has suffered intolerably cruel treatment in prison while fighting to overturn a conviction for a crime for which he has always maintained he was innocent. After two flawed trials and a legal process spanning decades, which has seen his conviction overturned in both federal and state courts, finally Albert is getting the freedom he deserves.”

“Today is a joyful day for Albert and his family, but should also prompt US authorities to address their cruel and extreme use of solitary confinement. For more than 40 years Albert Woodfox has not only been denied justice but has faced the daily horror of isolation. Nothing can make up for such injustice but he must now get all the reparations, including rehabilitation, owed to him for the ill treatment he suffered,” said Tessa Murphy.

Albert Woodfox was convicted, together with Herman Wallace, for the murder of a prison guard in the Louisiana State Penitentiary in 1972.

The prospect of a re-trial was thrown out after the judge noted a number of conditions including “the court’s lack of confidence in the State to provide a fair third trial” and “the prejudice done onto Mr. Woodfox by spending over forty-years in solitary confinement”.
Albert Woodfox has spent most of his 43 years in prison confined in a small cell for 23 hours a day, denied access to meaningful social interaction and rehabilitation programmes. The same was true for his co-defendant, the late Herman Wallace.

Both men always denied any involvement in the crime and said they were falsely implicated in the murder because of their political activism in prison as members of the Black Panther Party.

There was no physical evidence linking them to the crime and their convictions relied primarily on the dubious testimony of another prisoner, who received favourable treatment in return for his testimony. The case against them was based on flawed evidence and riddled with procedural errors that have been extensively documented over the years.
The conviction against Albert Woodfox had been overturned three times, the latest in 2013, but he remained in prison after the state of Louisiana appealed the ruling.

The judges ruled that he did not receive a fair trial in 1998 because of discrimination in the selection of the grand jury foreperson.
Albert Woodfox’s co-defendant, Herman Wallace, was released from prison in October 2013 just days before he died of liver cancer. A federal judge overturned his conviction on the basis of the systematic exclusion of women from the grand jury during his 1974 trial.