'Angola 3' Prisoner Released After Decades in Solitary Confinement

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Common Dreams

'Angola 3' Prisoner Released After Decades in Solitary Confinement

'Tragic' case sees wrongfully accused prisoner finally released, with limited time left to live

by
Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

Herman Wallace, the "Angola 3" prisoner who has been in solitary confinement for 41 out of the 71 years of his life, was released from prison late Tuesday night following the overturning of his conviction by a Louisianan state judge.

Wallace, who is dying from late stages of liver cancer, has been in solitary confinement in Louisiana State prison since being convicted in 1974, along with two other prisoners, of the murder of prison guard Brent Miller. Together they became known as the "Angola 3" and have been at the heart of a battle over racial injustice and the cruel and unusual practice known as 'solitary confinement' ever since.

"No ruling can erase the cruel, inhuman and degrading prison conditions he endured for more than 41 years." –Steven W. Hawkins, Amnesty International

Wallace's case was finally overturned early Tuesday by U.S. District Chief Judge Brian Jackson in Baton Rouge.

Wallace was released late Tuesday night and was sent to LSU Interim Hospital in New Orleans where he is now receiving treatment for terminal, advanced-stage liver cancer.

"Tonight, Herman Wallace has left the walls of Louisiana prisons and will be able to receive the medical care that his advanced liver cancer requires," his legal team said in a statement.

"The record in this case makes clear that Mr. Wallace's grand jury was improperly chosen in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of 'the equal protection of the laws' ... and that the Louisiana courts, when presented with the opportunity to correct this error, failed to do so," Judge Jackson wrote.

Directly following his conviction for Miller's murder in 1974, Wallace was placed in solitary confinement for the next 41 years of his life. According to Amnesty International, Wallace's cell measured 2 by 3 metter and he "was confined in this tiny space for 23 hours a day" for the duration of his sentence.

Amnesty International, which has campaigned against the lack of justice and the cruel conditions under which Wallace was kept for decades, said of his treatment:

Kept in these conditions for more than four decades, he was denied access to meaningful social interaction, work opportunities, education and rehabilitation programs.

Throughout this period he was only allowed out of his cell for seven hours a week, which he would spend showering or in solitary recreation.

“The case of Herman Wallace is a tragic example of ‘justice’ gone wrong in the USA," said Tessa Murphy, USA Campaigner at Amnesty. "Finally a federal court has acknowledged some of the unfairness surrounding this case. However, this sadly comes too late for lasting benefit as he is at death’s door with terminal cancer.”

The ruling has given Wallace "some measure of justice after a lifetime of injustice," George Kendall, one of Wallace's attorneys, told the Associated Press. "He's pleased, but he's quite ill," Kendall added.

For his supporters, it is too little justice and much too late.

"Tragically, this step toward justice has come as Herman is dying from cancer with only days or hours left to live," said Amnesty's executive director, Steven W. Hawkins. "No ruling can erase the cruel, inhuman and degrading prison conditions he endured for more than 41 years."

"It is Mr. Wallace's hope that this litigation will help ensure that others, including his lifelong friend and fellow 'Angola 3' member, Albert Woodfox, do not continue to suffer such cruel and unusual confinement even after Mr. Wallace is gone," his legal team added.

Watch Democracy Now!'s coverage on Wednesday below, which includes interviews with Robert King, who until Tuesday night was the only member of the Angola Three previously released.

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