A federal appeals court said Friday that Albert Woodfox, the last of the “Angola Three” prisoners still behind bars, must remain remain incarcerated for the time being.
The decision comes four days after a judge had ordered Woodfox freed after four decades in solitary confinement in Louisiana. In that order, Judge James J. Brady of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana also barred a third trial for Woodfox, who had been convicted twice before (both convictions were overturned).
Woodfox was sent to solitary for the killing of Brent Miller, a prison guard at the Louisiana State Penitentiary who was stabbed in April 1972. Woodfox and two other men became known as “Angola Three,” a group that was the focus of international efforts rallying against their solitary confinement and the conditions of their imprisonment.
But the state of Louisiana quickly fought the judge’s order, with Louisiana Attorney General James D. “Buddy” Caldwell filing an emergency stay motion with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit trying to prevent Woodfox’s release.
Aaron Sadler, a spokesman for Caldwell, said the judge’s order “arbitrarily sets aside jury decisions and gives a free pass to a murderer based on faulty procedural issues.”
The appeals court granted a temporary stay Tuesday and, on Friday, extended the stay to allow the state to appeal Brady’s order.The court also said the appeal should be expedited.
“We are pleased with the court’s decision that this inmate should remain in custody as the state pursues its appeal,” Sadler wrote in an e-mail Friday. “It has always been the state’s priority to ensure justice for the brutal slaying of Brent Miller and to hold accountable this murderer who has an extensive history of violent crimes.”
Attorneys for Woodfox said they were optimistic that the appeals court would eventually uphold Brady’s order.
“This is the rare, exceptional instance in which it is appropriate for the federal court to step in and prevent the state from attempting to mount an unfair trial,” George Kendall and Carine Williams, attorneys for Albert Woodfox, said in a statement e-mailed to The Post on Friday.
In his order Monday, Brady pointed to the case’s legal history and said there were multiple other factors that caused him to determine that Woodfox should be released and not allowed to stand trial for a third time. (Woodfox was indicted in February for the same crime.)
Among other things, he pointed to Woodfox’s age and medical issues, his decades in solitary confinement and the fact that it would be tough for him to mount another defense since so many of the case’s witnesses have died. In addition, Brady wrote that the evidence against Woodfox is not overwhelming and said he lacked confidence that the state could “provide a fair third trial.”
The appeals court, however, was not swayed by concerns about evidence or the fairness of a third trial. “No showing has been made that any state retrial (or any appeal) will be improperly handled,” the circuit court wrote.
And the judges wrote that “there is a substantial interest in staying the release of a person, twice convicted of murder, from being released from a life sentence without the possibility of parole.”
Woodfox and Herman Wallace were convicted of murder in Miller’s stabbing and placed in isolation, along with Robert King, who had been convicted of another crime. King was released in 2001, while Wallace was released in 2013; he died of cancer four days later.
In a 2011 report, Amnesty International decried the legal case against Woodfox and Wallace. “No physical evidence linking the men to the guard’s murder has ever been found; potentially exculpatory DNA evidence has been lost; and the convictions were based on questionable inmate testimony,” the report stated.
This post has been updated.