Angola

This April 22, 2009 photo shows a view of the front entrance of the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, La. (AP file photo/Judi Bottoni)

The convicted killer who corresponded last year with a reporter for The Advocate about possible improprieties in the state prison system and was then abruptly transferred to another prison where he was harshly punished was cleared Tuesday to return to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

William Kissinger, 64, who is serving life in prison for murder and manslaughter, on Tuesday settled his nine-month federal court case.

Kissinger’s attorney, Katie Schwartzmann, said Tuesday she expected Kissinger would be back at Angola that same day. He’s spent the past 20 months at the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel.

“What was most important to him always was getting his life back, and this agreement accomplishes that,” said Schwartzmann, a New Orleans-based attorney from the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center.

Besides returning Kissinger to Angola, where he spent 27 years, the settlement gives him back his old job as an orderly, his status as a trusty and his old pay rate of 16 cents an hour.

Still to be worked out between the parties is to what extent Kissinger is owed any compensation, including attorney's fees and court costs, Schwartzmann said.

When questioned last year about why they were transferring Kissinger from Angola to Hunt, state prison officials claimed the inmate violated prison rules but also that move was for his own safety. Soon after, Kissinger was formally cited for “defiance” and “general prohibited behavior.”

Tuesday's settlement reverses those citations.

Kissinger spent 18 days in solitary confinement at Hunt as he awaited the disciplinary hearing for those alleged infractions.

“He did not have even a mattress, and instead of a toothbrush, he was brushing his teeth with salt and his finger,” Schwartzmann said.

The settlement also restores Kissinger's inmate record, which U.S. District Judge John deGravelles in July described as exemplary. At that hearing, deGravelles not only rejected a motion by the state to throw out the case but signaled that Kissinger was likely to win in key areas, saying the inmate exceeded his burden of demonstrating that his First Amendment free speech and due process rights were violated.

In agreeing to the settlement, the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections admitted to no wrongdoing.

“The department maintains the transfer was in the best interest of all parties, and that it did nothing wrong,” Ken Pastorick, spokesman for the state corrections department, said in a statement Tuesday.

Nevertheless, he said the state agency determined that settling the case “was in the best interest of the state of Louisiana and its taxpayers.”

Kissinger began corresponding through email and letters with Maya Lau, then a reporter for The Advocate, amid a series of articles on Angola, including revelations about financial relationships between Burl Cain, the former longtime warden, and relatives of prisoners. Those revelations led to the warden's abrupt retirement.

Lau is now a reporter for The Los Angeles Times.

Schwartzmann said that from beginning, Kissinger sought to protect not just his own free speech rights to talk to the news media but those of his fellow prisoners.

“The ability of the press to shine a light behind prison walls is something the public should really care about,” she said.

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