Criminal Justice

5th Circuit ruling could mean freedom for 'Angola 3' inmate held in solitary for 40-plus years

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An inmate who has been held in solitary confinement for more than 40 years for the alleged murder of a prison guard has won a reversal of his conviction.

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld a federal judge’s decision to overturn the conviction of Albert Woodfox, 67, a member of the so-called “Angola 3,” the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports.

Supporters had claimed the three inmates were framed in retaliation for organizing a chapter of the Black Panther party in prison. Woodfox had been sent to prison for armed robbery. He is the only member of the Angola 3 who is still in prison.

The second member was exonerated and released from prison in 2001, while the third member was released last October two days before he died from cancer complications, the story says.

The 5th Circuit opinion (PDF) upheld the reversal because of discrimination in the selection of a grand jury foreperson.

Under Louisiana procedure, the judge selected the foreperson from the grand jury venire before the other grand jurors were selected by lot. Between 1970 and 1990, African Americans constituted 40 to 56 percent of persons who weren’t in prison in the West Feliciana Parish, but only 12 percent of grand jury forepersons.

Prosecutors could still seek to appeal or to re-indict Woodfox.

Hat tip to the Marshall Project.

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