A small group gathered at the Wesley United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge Sunday afternoon to pray for Albert Woodfox, the last of the Angola 3 still in prison, and his brother, Michael Mable, said he hopes that he will see his brother as a free man within both their lifetimes.
Woodfox has been in solitary confinement for the last four decades and counting — more than any other inmate in the United States.
“I do believe he’s innocent,” Mable said. “I just want him to have his freedom.”
Woodfox was originally sent to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola for armed robbery, but he was then convicted in the stabbing death of security officer Brent Miller, 23, in 1972. His conviction has been overturned twice in the years since amid claims of racial bias. But each time, prosecutors have re-indicted him on charges of murder — first in 1998 and again in February.
Attorney General Buddy Caldwell has previously said that in the prison guard’s death, the “facts of the case remain solid.”
“Two juries have found that inmate Albert Woodfox undeniably murdered Corrections Officer Brent Miller in 1972,” Caldwell told The Associated Press earlier this year. “We will continue to fight to ensure that he is held fully accountable for his actions.”
Woodfox and the other members of the Angola 3 — Herman Wallace and Robert King Wilkerson, now known as Robert King — have captured widespread national attention for the lengths of time they spent in solitary confinement.
King was never charged in Miller’s stabbing death. Instead, he was convicted of murdering another inmate in an unrelated case.
“We believe that’s cruel and unusual punishment,” said the Rev. Patricia Bates, a Methodist minister in Homer, who led Sunday’s meeting and has advocated for Woodfox’s release from solitary. “It’s torture. Plain and simple.”
Supporters have said their treatment was motivated by their activism with the Black Panther Party and their efforts to organize protests at the prison.
King and Wallace eventually were released — King in 2001 and Wallace in 2013 — but Wallace died of liver cancer within days of his release as he awaited a new trial.
Woodfox remains behind bars. His lawyers have argued for his release on bail as the state prepares to move forward with another trial for the murder, but prosecutors have emphasized Woodfox’s seven felony convictions and two escapes from custody.
At the meeting Sunday, Bates read from letters she’s received from Woodfox in the last few years.
“There are times that all of this madness becomes overwhelming, and I have a momentary shutdown,” Woodfox wrote in one of the letters. “For me, justice is still elusive. But I try to face each day that I live with conviction.”
Mable said he has visited his brother every month without fail since his brother’s incarceration in the early 1970s. Mable still makes the drive even after leaving New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and settling in Houston. He works as a chef on an offshore drilling platform.
Mable recalled how his older brother, then in his early 20s, also essentially raised him and his four other siblings on his own — from walking them to school to making sure they fell asleep.
“I just want justice,” Mable said Sunday. “I just feel that all these years, they’ve never proved that Albert did this. … My struggle is to make sure that he gets free one day.”