Albert Woodfox sat quietly in a black-and-white striped prison jumpsuit Monday as his attorneys and lawyers for the state argued passionately in front of a Baton Rouge federal judge over whether the 67-year-old “Angola 3” member should be released on bail while awaiting a third trial in the 1972 stabbing death of a Louisiana State Penitentiary guard.
Carine Williams, one of Woodfox’s attorneys, told U.S. District Judge James Brady that Woodfox is neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community, and she said the operators of the New Orleans social service agency Hope House have agreed to provide housing and employment to Woodfox, who is from New Orleans, if he is released.
But Assistant Attorney General Kurt Wall argued it is up to a state district judge, not a federal judge, to decide whether Woodfox should be released on bail now that he is once again under indictment in the killing of prison guard Brent Miller.
“He has every right to bail, just not by this court,” Wall said to Brady, also telling the judge it would be “out of the ordinary” for the federal judge to order Woodfox released on bail.
Fellow Assistant Attorney General Colin Clark argued additionally that Woodfox has twice been unanimously convicted in Miller’s slaying, and he added that Woodfox’s seven felony convictions — including two escapes — do not make him a prime candidate for bail.
“That’s not going to weigh too heavily on me,” Brady said of Woodfox’s past convictions, which his attorneys said date to the 1960s.
Brady nevertheless cleared the courtroom for about an hour to hear more arguments about Woodfox’s criminal past after George Kendall, another of Woodfox’s attorneys, complained that discussion of Woodfox’s “stale” convictions would prejudice a future jury.
After Brady reopened the courtroom and heard more bail-related arguments, the judge gave both sides a week to file additional written arguments. He did not indicate when he would issue a decision.
Brady is the judge who threw out Woodfox’s 1998 second-degree murder conviction in 2013, citing racial discrimination in the grand jury foreman selection process. A federal appeals court let his ruling stand in November.
Wall told Brady that the state “might” ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the judge’s overturning of Woodfox’s 1998 conviction. Clark told the judge that the state is prepared to retry Woodfox “within a reasonable time.”
Woodfox’s 1973 murder conviction also was tossed due to grand jury issues.
Woodfox’s attorneys filed a motion in federal court Feb. 6 — six days before a West Feliciana Parish grand jury indicted him in the murder of Brent Miller — urging Brady to conditionally release Woodfox from state custody because there is no valid conviction holding him.
Wall and Clark argued in writing that the Feb. 12 indictment of Woodfox made his motion a moot point because a bail hearing will be held in state court. A Feb. 18 bail hearing in West Feliciana was called off at the request of Woodfox’s lawyers, Wall noted Monday.
Woodfox was transferred from David Wade Correctional Center near Homer to the West Feliciana Parish jail after his indictment.
Williams argued the transfer was unlawful because Brady was not consulted before the move. Wall said the transfer was proper but added the state will gladly send Woodfox back to Wade.
“I don’t think that’s what they want,” Brady interjected to some mild laughter in the courtroom.
Williams told the judge that Woodfox is in poor health — his attorneys have said in court filings that he suffers from hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and chronic renal insufficiency — and has spent more than four decades in prison in the Miller case.
“He’s served the majority of a natural life span,” she said of his prison time.
Woodfox and former Angola inmates Herman Wallace and Robert King were dubbed the “Angola 3” for spending long stretches in solitary confinement at the state prison.
Wallace was convicted with Woodfox of second-degree murder in the death of Miller, 23. Wallace died in October 2013 only days after a judge freed him and granted him a new trial. He spent decades in solitary confinement at Angola prior to his release and death.
The other Angola 3 member, King, was convicted of killing a fellow inmate in 1973 and released in 2001 after his conviction was reversed.
Woodfox and Wallace were serving 50-year sentences for armed robbery convictions when Miller was killed. They received life terms in that killing.
Like Wallace, Woodfox has always denied any involvement in Miller’s killing. Both said they were falsely implicated in the murder because of their political activism in prison as members of the Black Panther Party.
Follow Joe Gyan Jr. on Twitter, @JoeGyanJr.