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Robert King gets honorary degree from Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, 2012
Robert King's release from Angola Prison in 2001.
The Angola 3, left to right: Herman Wallace, Robert King, and Albert Woodfox
(Fact Sheet from www.angola3news.com)
43 years ago, deep in rural Louisiana, three young black men were silenced for trying to expose continued segregation, systematic corruption, and horrific abuse in the biggest prison in the US, an 18,000 acre former slave plantation called Angola.
Peaceful, non-violent protest in the form of hunger and work strikes organized by inmates caught the attention of Louisiana’s elected leaders and local media in the early 1970s. They soon called for investigations into a host of unconstitutional and extraordinarily inhumane practices commonplace in what was then the “bloodiest prison in the South.” Eager to put an end to outside scrutiny, prison officials began punishing inmates they saw as troublemakers.
At the height of this unprecedented institutional chaos, Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox, and Robert King were charged with murders they did not commit and thrown into 6x9 foot solitary cells.
Robert was released in 2001, and Herman in October 2013, but Albert remains in solitary, continuing to fight for his freedom.
Despite a number of reforms achieved in the mid-70s, many officials repeatedly ignore both evidence of misconduct, and of innocence.
The State’s case is riddled with inconsistencies, obfuscations, and missteps. A bloody print at the murder scene does not match Herman, Albert or anyone charged with the crime and was never compared with the limited number of other prisoners who had access to the dormitory on the day of the murder. In 2008, NPR asked Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell why the state refuses to test the print. "A fingerprint can come from anywhere," Caldwell explained. "We're not going to be fooled by that."
Potentially exculpatory DNA evidence has been “lost” by prison officials—including fingernail scrapings from the victim and barely visible “specks” of blood on clothing alleged to have been worn by Albert.
Both Herman and Albert had multiple alibi witnesses with nothing to gain who testified they were far away from the scene when the murder occurred.
In contrast, several State witnesses lied under oath about rewards for their testimony. The prosecution’s star witness Hezekiah Brown told the jury: “Nobody promised me nothing.” But new evidence shows Hezekiah, a convicted serial rapist serving life, agreed to testify only in exchange for a pardon, a weekly carton of cigarettes, TV, birthday cakes, and other luxuries.
“Hezekiah was one you could put words in his mouth,” the Warden reminisced chillingly in an interview about the case years later.
Notably, Teenie Rogers, the widow of the victim, prison guard Brent Miller, after reviewing the evidence believes Herman and Albert’s trials were unfair, has grave doubts about their guilt, and is calling upon officials to find the real killer. "“Each time I look at the evidence in this case, I remember there is no proof that the men charged with Brent’s death are the ones who actually killed him. It’s easy to get caught up in vengeance and anger, but when I look at the facts, they just do not add up,” said Rogers in 2013.
Herman’s conviction was finally overturned in October 2013 by a Federal Judge. Although his trial was riddled with evidence of prosecutorial misconduct and other constitutional violations, it was the systematic exclusion of women from his jury in violation of the 14th Amendment that freed him. Unfortunately he was released in the late stages of advanced liver cancer and only experienced 3 days of freedom. Sadly for Herman, justice delayed was justice denied.
Albert’s conviction has now been overturned three times, most recently in February of 2013 due to a finding of racial discrimination in the selection of his grand jury foreperson. The first two times judges cited racial discrimination, prosecutorial misconduct, inadequate defense, and suppression of exculpatory evidence. He now awaits a ruling from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that will hopefully uphold the Judge’s order, and set him free.
In the meantime, although no longer convicted of a crime, Louisiana prison officials refuse to release Albert from solitary because “there’s been no rehabilitation” from “practicing Black Pantherism.” If they have their way, Albert will die in prison, behind solitary bars. Let us hope the courts disagree.
Louisiana today has the highest incarceration rate in the US—thus the highest in the world.
Three-fourths of the 5,000+ prisoners at Angola are African American. And due to some of the harshest sentencing practices in the nation, 97% will die there.
Reminiscent of a bygone era, inmates still harvest cotton, corn and wheat for 4 to 20 cents an hour under the watchful eye of armed guards on horseback.
We believe that only by openly examining the failures and inequities of the criminal justice system in America can we restore integrity to that system.
We must not wait.
We can make a difference.
As the A3 did years before, now is the time to challenge injustice and demand that the innocent and wrongfully incarcerated be freed.
Cruel and Unusual Punishment: Over a decade ago Herman, Albert and Robert filed a civil lawsuit challenging the inhumane and increasingly pervasive practice of long-term solitary confinement. Magistrate Judge Dalby describes their almost four decades of solitary as “durations so far beyond the pale” she could not find “anything even remotely comparable in the annals of American jurisprudence.” The case, scheduled for a two-week trial beginning on June 2nd, 2014, will detail unconstitutionally cruel and unusual treatment and systematic due process violations at the hands of Louisiana officials.
International Coalition to Free the Angola 3