Rule of law = 40 years of solitary confinement
Compiled from various sources
submitted by: Tippa Naphtali – November 2013
Any news updates on this case will be listed at the foot of this item
In October 2013 Herman Wallace, who spent 41 years in solitary confinement and who was dying of cancer, was released from prison. US district chief judge Brian Jackson in Baton Rouge denied the state’s motion seeking to block his earlier order overturning Herman Wallace’s 1974 murder conviction in the death of Angola prison guard Brent Miller.
Jackson had also ordered a new trial because several women were unconstitutionally excluded from the grand jury that indicted Wallace in the guard’s death. He ordered him to be released immediately.
Herman died of liver cancer on 4 October 2013, just three days after his release. His attorney George Kendall said; “He was very comfortable and surrounded by loved ones. “He was grateful that he was alive on free soil.”
Originally serving time for unrelated cases of armed robbery, Wallace and fellow prisoner Albert Woodfox were convicted of the murder of a prison guard, Brent Miller, in 1972, and placed in isolation at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola Prison.
Herman was a member of the inmate crew known as the Angola 3 had been convicted and held in solitary confinement on highly questionable evidence. That included witness testimony from jailhouse informants who had been promised special privileges, including two who had since recanted and one who was legally blind.
The men believe they were originally targeted for the murder and held in isolation because of their association with the Black Panther Party. (The third member of the Angola 3, Robert King, was freed in 2001 when his conviction for the murder of a fellow prisoner was overturned in 2001 after spending 29 years in solitary).
Herman and Albert were transferred out of Angola and sent to separate, distant prisons, where they remained in solitary.
The men continued to deny involvement in the prison guard’s killing, and had also been the subjects of documentary films. In July 2013, Amnesty International called for their release on humanitarian grounds, claiming that “no physical evidence linked them to the crime; potentially exculpatory DNA evidence had been lost, and the testimony of the main eyewitness had been discredited.”
In June 2013, at the age of 71, Herman was diagnosed with liver cancer and was held in a locked prison hospital room at the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center at St. Gabriel, Louisiana. His prognosis at the time was said to be ‘grave’.
Tessa Murphy, U.S. Campaigner for Amnesty International took up the case and it was said she stated in an email, “The tens of thousands of Amnesty International supporters worldwide who have campaigned over the years for justice in Herman and Albert’s case will be devastated by this sad news. Herman and Albert have been held in cruel conditions of confinement for over 40 years without meaningful review; neither of the men have disciplinary record to indicate that they are a threat to themselves, fellow prisoners or staff, and the Louisiana prison authorities have since 1996 broken their own policy to justify the men’s continued detention under these conditions.’’
For 41 years, Herman and Albert spent at least 23 hours a day in cells measuring 6 feet by 9 feet. They were sometimes allowed out for one hour a day to take a shower or a walk along the cellblock. Three days a week they were allowed to use that hour to exercise alone in a fenced yard.
In their civil suit lawyers argued that the men had endured physical injury and “severe mental anguish and other psychological damage” from living most of their adult lives in lockdown. According to medical reports submitted to the court, the men suffered from arthritis, hypertension, and kidney failure, as well as memory impairment, insomnia, claustrophobia, anxiety, and depression. Even the psychologist brought in by the state confirmed these findings.
Prior to Herman’s death Amnesty’s Murphy said “The injustice of being held under such harsh, restrictive and inhumane conditions for over four decades is compounded by the serious legal concerns that have emerged in their cases over the years of litigation.
Amnesty International will continue its fight for justice for Herman and Albert; with the terrible news of Herman’s health, this fight becomes more important than ever.”
New Orleans artist Jackie Sumell made a career out of building a house for Herman that many thought he may never live in. Jackie was one of Herman’s longest-standing pen pals, and guided by his vision, (sketched in hundreds of letters over a 12 year period) she helped to design his dream home.
Following Herman’s death his lawyers said; “Herman endured what very few of us can imagine, and he did it with grace, dignity, and empathy to the end,” A report from The Atlantic summarised; No one will ever say that about the men and women of Louisiana, the state officials and lawyers and judges, who for over 40 years permitted an appallingly unjust result to stain the nation’s rule of law.
Louisiana prisoner released after 41 years in solitary
2 October 2013
Judge orders Angola 3’s Herman Wallace released from prison
1 October 2013