Tuesday, July 08, 2008

La. judge overturns ex-Black Panther's conviction

The Associated Press
July 8, 2008

BATON ROUGE, La. -- A federal judge on Tuesday overturned the conviction of a former Black Panther in the 1972 stabbing death of a Louisiana prison guard.

Albert Woodfox, who was held in solitary confinement for over 30 years, is one of three former Panthers known as the "Angola Three." He and two other black prisoners at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola were convicted in the killing of guard Brent Miller on April 17, 1972.

U.S. District Judge James Brady issued a ruling late Tuesday approving a federal magistrate's June recommendation that Woodfox's conviction be overturned because one of his former lawyers failed to object to a prosecutor's testimony about a witness' credibility. Brady also found that Woodfox's trial lawyer failed to object to testimony from a witness who had died after the trial.

Woodfox's decades in solitary confinement attracted worldwide attention from activists who called him a political prisoner.

Nick Trenticosta, the New Orleans-based defense lawyer who handled the appeal, said Woodfox's immediate future lies in the hands of prosecutors, who could request a new trial. Trenticosta said he hoped Woodfox to be released without another trial.

"The man was convicted on false evidence, and he's been held in solitary for almost 40 years. Let's release him," Trenticosta said.

A message left for prosecutors late Tuesday was not immediately returned.

Trenticosta said Woodfox had probably not yet heard about the ruling.

"I don't believe he knows," Trenticosta said. "But I'll talk to him in the morning and he'll probably find out about it in the newspaper."

Woodfox and Herman Wallace were kept in solitary confinement from 1972 until March, when they were moved to a maximum-security dormitory with other prisoners. Woodfox was serving 50 years for armed robbery when the 1972 killing occurred.

Wallace has been appealing his conviction based on arguments similar to Woodfox's.

The third member of the "Angola Three" spent 29 years in isolation before his conviction was overturned in 2001. Robert King, known as Robert King Wilkerson in the 1970s, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and was freed.