Louisiana Goddam: Vengeful State Seeks Its Third Pound of Flesh from Albert Woodfox, Because 40 Years of Solitary Just Wasn't Enough
Woodfox mural in New Orleans/Photo from NOLA
Like a rabid dog with a battered bone, Louisiana officials have won the obscene right to keep the Angola Three's Albert Woodfox behind bars and try him for the third time for the 1972 murder of a prison guard that nobody - not even the victim's widow - believes Woodfox committed. Monday's unfathomable ruling by a federal appeals court thus reversed a June order by US District Judge James Brady, who had ordered Woodfox’s immediate release; Brady noted that 43 years have passed since the crime, key witnesses - including the star witness, a serial rapist pardoned after his testimony - have died, there is no physical evidence linking Woodfox to the death, and for God's sake enough is enough. In a truly pot-kettle ruling, the new court found that the previous court "abused its discretion."
Woodfox, 68, who has steadfastly maintained his innocence in the death of guard Brent Miller, is the last still-incarcerated member of the Angola Three, political prisoners held for decades in isolation in the infamous Angola State Prison for, most sentient humans believe, helping organize a Black Panther chapter in the 1970s to combat inhumane conditions, systemic corruption, segregation and prison rape. All three sued the state in 2000, arguing their sustained solitary confinement constituted cruel and unusual punishment - a stance most of the world agreed with. Robert King was exonerated and freed in 2001, and now advocates against solitary confinement; Herman Wallace was released in October 2013 after a judge granted him a new trial, and died after just three days of freedom.
Woodfox has already seen his conviction overturned three times for racial bias and other abuses of power. Each time, he was indicted again by a state that's literally the world's prison capital: Louisiana's incarceration rate is double the national average, imprisoning more of its people, mostly black, than any other state in the country - which in turn leads the world. Most are housed in for-profit facilities, part of a $182-million industry known for its horrific conditions, including excessive and what many experts deem tortuous solitary confinement. In a bit of surreal semantic wrangling, state officials argue that Woodfox - who has spent most of the last 43 years in a small cage - was not in "solitary" but in "closed-cell restriction" because he could yell to other inmates on his tier and could watch TV through the bars of his cell. Unfrigginbelievable.
The dissenting judge in Monday's ruling decried "the wrongful harm done to Woodfox, not only as a litigant but also as a human being by his two unconstitutional convictions and his egregious four decades of solitary confinement....If ever a case justifiably could be considered to present 'exceptional circumstances' barring re-prosecution, this is that case." Still, Louisiana officials, evidently bearing little resemblance to human beings, won't let go. Out of their foul mouths comes this: “This inmate seeks to further delay justice by attempting to put up procedural hurdles that would prevent the state from holding him fully accountable for his crime.” It remains unclear when they will be for theirs. Woodfox, meanwhile, says this: "They will never be able to break me." Nina Simone, decades ago: "Lord, have mercy on this land of mine/We all gonna get it in due time."