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Vol. 77/No. 37      October 21, 2013

In solitary 41 years, Herman
Wallace fought frame-up
Three days before he dies, judge orders
his release for not getting fair trial
(feature article)
Herman Wallace spent nearly a lifetime fighting his frame-up conviction of murder. He had spent more than 41 years in solitary confinement when a judge ordered his release Oct. 1 on the grounds that he did not receive a fair trial. Three days later, Wallace died from liver cancer at the age of 71.

Albert Woodfox, 66, convicted with Wallace, is still fighting from his 6-by-9-foot solitary cell in a Louisiana prison. Together with Robert King, 73, Wallace and Woodfox are known as the Angola 3 political prisoners, as a result of the work of those who for decades have campaigned for their freedom.

King arrived at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola in 1972. He, along with Wallace and Woodfox, became members of the Black Panther Party. King was released in 2001 after his conviction of killing a fellow inmate in 1973 was overturned and after spending 28 years in solitary confinement. Since his release, he has campaigned against solitary confinement and for release of all of the Angola 3.

“I’m glad they released Herman, but it’s bittersweet,” King said Oct. 7 in a phone interview from Austin, Texas. “It should have been done a long time ago and justice delayed is justice denied. But his voice will become louder in death.”

Woodfox and Wallace arrived at Louisiana State Penitentiary, the nation’s largest maximum security prison, in 1969 and 1971 respectively. They were placed in solitary on April 18, 1972, following a riot in which prison guard Brent Miller was killed. In 1972 all-male, all-white grand juries indicted the two for the killing. They were convicted in 1974. With the exception of a three-year period for Woodfox, the men have been in solitary ever since.

District Judge Brian Jackson in Baton Rouge, La., overturned Wallace’s conviction Oct. 1 and granted his immediate release, ruling that his 1972 indictment and subsequent trial was a violation of his 14th Amendment rights, because there were no women on the grand jury. A grand jury re-indicted Wallace on the charges Oct. 3.

Wallace, Woodfox and King have always maintained their innocence and pointed to the political nature of their frame-ups.

“They pinned it on us, because we were militants, we were fighters, we were members of the Black Panther Party,” King told the Militant. “There was no evidence linking us to the killings. We shed light on conditions in the prisons, the unconstitutional treatment of inmates.”

A blood print at the murder scene did not match either of the two. DNA evidence that could potentially have cleared them was “lost” by prison officials. Multiple defense witnesses placed both far from the murder scene.

Miller’s widow Teenie Verret is among those who don’t believe Wallace and Woodfox killed her husband. “I’ve been living this for 36 years,” she says in “In the Land of the Free,” a documentary released in 2010. “And it just keeps going and going. And then these men, I mean, if they did not do this — and I believe that they didn’t — they have been living a nightmare for 36 years.”

In 1971, Wallace and Woodfox were among a group of inmates at Angola that founded one of the first prison chapters of the Black Panther Party. They organized hunger and work strikes for better conditions.

‘Brought consciousness to prisoners’

“Herman and Albert started and I joined them, because I felt the need to struggle,” King said. “We wanted to bring consciousness to our fellow prisoners that we are protected by due process, 14th Amendment and other constitutional grounds. And we adhered to that. The prison tried to impose punitive measures upon us for doing this, but we continued. And we were very successful. As a result Herman and Albert paid dearly for it — more than 40 years in solitary confinement.”

Woodfox’s conviction has been overturned three times, most recently on Feb. 13 due to a finding of racial discrimination in the selection of the grand jury. The first two decisions were reversed on appeal; he is now awaiting a ruling on the third from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a 2008 deposition, Angola warden Burl Cain stated why he thought Woodfox should remain in solitary. “The thing about him is that he wants to demonstrate. He wants to organize. He wants to be defiant. … [H]e is still trying to practice Black Pantherism and I would not want him walking around my prison because he would organize the young new inmates.”

The harsh conditions continued after the men were moved — Wallace to Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in 2009 and Woodfox to David Wade Correctional Center in 2010.

When King was asked how he made it through nearly three decades of solitary confinement he answered, “My political conviction.”

“I’m a Christian, I inherited that,” he said. “But that’s not what did it. It was when I became political, when I began to understand how society worked, how injustices are built into it. This gave me some buoyancy. I saw it as my duty to this political conviction to keep going, and I did. When I met the Panthers in prison, I was already ripe for the message.”

“I thought that my cause, then and now, was noble,” Woodfox says in a statement on the Angola 3 website. “They might bend me a little bit, they may cause me a lot of pain, they may even take my life, but they will never be able to break me.”

“He’s still in there, still fighting. He will hold out. But this goes beyond us, it’s a growing movement against long-term solitary confinement,” King said. “It’s been our main focus and it’s now Herman’s legacy. We’re a huge body of people, we’re growing and becoming more vocal.”
Related articles:
Support grows for prisoners’ right to read the ‘Militant’
Arrested by NY cops, woman dies next day from lack of care
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