Court won't re-instate Angola 3 inmate's '72 murder conviction; prosecutors mull next step

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NEW ORLEANS — A federal appeals court has refused to reinstate the second-degree murder conviction of longtime state prison inmate Albert Woodfox — one of the prisoners dubbed "the Angola Three" by supporters — in the 1972 stabbing death of a guard.

Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell said Friday the ruling was based on a technicality, that it in no way exonerates Woodfox and that his attorneys were reviewing the decision to determine their next move.

Woodfox and two other state prisoners became known as the Angola Three due to their long stretches in solitary confinement at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. A human rights group, Amnesty International, called for the release of the 67-year-old inmate in light of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling Thursday.

The lengthy ruling upheld a district court's finding that Woodfox's 1993 indictment was tainted by racial discrimination in the grand jury foreman selection process.

"Woodfox identified specific African-American venire members and their employment and education, and compared those qualifications to the white forepersons actually selected," Judge Patrick Higginbotham wrote on behalf of a unanimous 5th Circuit panel. "For almost every year, Woodfox can point to African-Americans in the grand jury venire that had comparable educational and employment experience to the selected foreperson. This bolsters our conclusion."

Other members of the Angola Three were prisoners Robert King and Herman Wallace. Woodfox and Wallace have said they were singled out for harsh treatment, including isolation, because of their political activism.

Wallace, convicted with Woodfox of murder in the death of guard Brent Miller, died last fall only days after a judge freed him and granted him a new trial. King, who was convicted of killing a fellow inmate in 1973, was released in 2001 after his conviction was reversed, and was among dozens of Woodfox supporters at the 5th Circuit's January hearing.

"The Appeals Court decision focused on a technicality with the grand jury selection process from as far back as 30 years ago," Caldwell's statement said. "No court decision, including this one, has ever made a finding which disputes the fact that Albert Woodfox murdered Brent Miller at Angola in 1972."

Woodfox is being held at Louisiana's Wade Correctional Center, where, his lawyers say, officials have begun carrying out body cavity searches up to six times a day, despite his being in isolation most of the time. They said the searches were done whenever he was moved from one area to another within the prison system for limited exercise periods, lawyer visits or medical treatment, always under heavy security.

His lawyers last month asked the 5th Circuit to uphold a district court order limiting such searches. State officials argued that Woodfox remains a maximum security inmate, subject to the same searches as others. A decision on that matter is pending.

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