Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Amnesty International Urges State of Louisiana Not to Appeal Federal Ruling Overturning Conviction in Angola 3 Case

From an Amnesty International news release:

Amnesty International called on Louisiana Attorney General James Caldwell today not to appeal a federal court ruling overturning the conviction of Albert Woodfox of the ‘Angola 3’ for the second-degree murder of a prison guard in 1972. Amnesty International has raised serious human rights concerns over the case for many years.

In a ruling on Tuesday, Judge James Brady of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana found that racial discrimination lay behind the under-representation of African-Americans selected to serve as grand jury forepersons in the jurisdiction in which Woodfox, 66, who is African-American, was retried after his original conviction was overturned in 1992.

Judge Brady found that the state had failed to meet its burden “to dispel the inference of intentional discrimination” indicated by the statistical evidence covering a 13-year period from 1980 to 1993 presented by Albert Woodfox’s lawyers. The state, Judge Brady found, had failed to show “racially neutral” reasons to explain the under-representation of African-Americans selected as grand jury foreperson during this period.

Woodfox was convicted in 1973 along with a second prisoner, Herman Wallace, of the murder of Brent Miller. This conviction was overturned in 1992, but Woodfox was re-indicted by grand jury in 1993 and convicted again at a 1998 trial, and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1999. In 2008, a U.S. District Court ruled that Woodfox had been denied his right to adequate assistance of counsel during the 1998 trial and should either be retried or set free. The court also found that evidence presented by Woodfox’s lawyers of discrimination in the selection of the grand jury foreperson warranted a federal evidentiary hearing. While the State appealed the District court for a retrial – and won – yesterday’s ruling from the evidentiary hearing, once again sees the conviction overturned.

Amnesty International has repeatedly expressed concern that many legal aspects of this case are troubling: no physical evidence links Woodfox and Wallace to the murder, potentially exculpatory DNA evidence was lost by the state, and their conviction was based on questionable testimony – much of which subsequently retracted by witnesses. In recent years, evidence has emerged that the main eyewitness was bribed by prison officials into giving statements against the men. Both men have robustly denied over the years any involvement in the murder.

Woodfox has been held since his conviction over 40 years ago in solitary confinement. The extremely harsh conditions he has endured, including being confined for 23 hours a day, inadequate access to exercise, social interaction and no access to work, education, or rehabilitation have had physical and psychological consequences. Throughout his incarceration, Woodfox has been denied any meaningful review of the reasons for being kept in isolation; and records indicate that he hasn’t committed any disciplinary infractions for decades, nor, according to prison mental health records, is he a threat to himself or others. Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the authorities that both he and Wallace be removed from such conditions which the organization believes can only be described as cruel, inhuman and degrading.

"The fact that Woodfox’s conviction has been overturned again gives weight to Amnesty International's longstanding concerns that the original legal process was flawed," said Tessa Murphy, an Amnesty researcher.

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