A federal appeals court on Tuesday temporarily blocked a district judge’s order to release Albert Woodfox, the last of the Angola 3 still jailed after more than 40 years of solitary confinement.
In a brief order, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals said they would grant a stay pending appeal until Friday afternoon.
The state Attorney General’s office had filed a request for an emergency stay under seal with the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday afternoon.
“We are hopeful that the Court of Appeals will grant this stay, for the sake of the families of his victims and the multiple juries and grand juries that independently determined that this inmate should be held accountable for his multiple crimes,” said Aaron Sadler, communications director for the Louisiana Department of Justice, in a statement.
“Judge Brady was correct in granting this relief,” George Kendall, one of Woodfox’s attorneys, said Tuesday as he left the jail in St. Francisville after visiting Woodfox.
It would be virtually impossible for the state to afford a fair trial in the case because “nearly all the critical witnesses are dead,” he said.
Kendall said it’s time for the case to end. He described his client as “guardedly hopeful,” saying Woodfox has seen victory and defeat in court in the past.
Woodfox is being held at the West Feliciana jail while he awaits a third trial in the 1972 stabbing death of corrections officer Brent Miller at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.
However, when U.S. District Judge James J. Brady issued his ruling Monday, he also barred another retrial for the 68-year-old inmate.
Woodfox’s unanimous 1973 and 1998 murder convictions were overturned because of problems with the handling of the grand juries that indicted him on murder charges. Brady overturned the second murder conviction in 2013 because of racial discrimination in the grand jury foreman selection process.
The longtime state inmate was indicted Feb. 12 for a third time in Miller’s death.
While an inmate at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, Woodfox grew to some celebrity because of the unusually long time he had served in solitary confinement. He spent about 40 years in one of Angola’s restricted cells, becoming known as one of the “Angola 3,” a group of inmates who had served exceptionally long stints in solitary.
Both Woodfox and Herman Wallace, who was accused of helping kill the Miller, have argued they were falsely blamed for the prison guard’s death because they were once organizers for a Black Panther Party group within the prison. In the early 1970s, they were among a group of inmates who sought to expose brutal conditions at Angola, which earned a reputation as being one of the worst prisons in the U.S., where assaults on inmates were common.
Wallace was released from prison in October 2013, but died days later. The third member of the Angola 3 was Robert King Wilkerson, who had joined the Black Panthers in New Orleans before prison, who was released from Angola in 2001.
The state’s filing with the 5th Circuit was under seal so that prosecutors could use documents that were sealed by the Brady in the district court proceedings. Those documents, sealed at Woodfox’s request, according to an Attorney General motion, include information about “criminal history, disciplinary records, and financial statements.”
Erin Foster, spokeswoman for the West Feliciana Sheriff’s Office, said Woodfox has been held in the West Feliciana Detention Center since about Feb. 23. He is being held in general population, she said, and has never been placed in solitary confinement while at that parish jail.
She said deputies were unsure whether they would hear anything from the court until this afternoon or this evening about whether he will be released today.
* This story was edited after publication to correct the date of Woodfox’s second trial.