Louisiana Prisoners Challenge 28 Years of Solirary Confinement

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On Thursday, March 30, 2000, the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of the Angola 3-Robert King Wilkerson, Herman Wallace, and Albert Woodfox-who have spent the past 28 years in solitary confinement at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

The suit alleges that the three men are confined in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. They have been locked in small cells without air conditioning for 23 hours per day since 1972.

In the early 1970s, Wilkerson, Wallace, and Woodfox were involved in human rights struggles at the prison (on the site of a former slave plantation). At the time, Angola was considered the most brutal penitentiary in the United States. It was racially segregated and had an all-white staff. Selected inmates were issued rifles and allowed to serve as guards. Stabbings occurred almost daily.

Woodfox, Wallace, and Wilkerson’s efforts to resist the frightful conditions at the prison led them to join the Black Panther movement. In retaliation, prison officials convicted them of trumped-up charges, sentenced them to life without parole, and placed them in permanent solitary confinement.

Woodfox and Wallace were convicted of the 1972 murder of a prison guard. Wilkerson was convicted of the 1973 murder of an inmate. In both cases, prosecutors relied entirely on the dubious testimony of other inmates to win convictions.

Recently-obtained prison records now confirm that the inmate witnesses in both cases were either paid outright or coerced into giving statements. Woodfox has passed a lie detector test in which his denials of involvement in the guard killing were found to be truthful.

In Wilkerson’s case, the inmate who committed the murder has confessed and has testified in court that he acted alone, in self-defense. One of the inmates who testified against him has sworn in an affidavit that his testimony was prepared by an Angola warden who threatened to charge him with the murder if he refused to testify.

The other inmate who testified against Wilkerson has also sworn that he perjured himself. Prison records show that he was in the shower at the time of the murder, meaning he was not in a position to observe anything.

With respect to Woodfox and Wallace, prison officials themselves have testified that the two primary inmate witnesses against them were known “snitches” or liars.

Prison records show that one of them, Hezekiah Brown, was paid one carton of cigarettes per week in exchange for his testimony. Shortly after he testified, Angola officials began a campaign to win a pardon for Brown, who was serving a life sentence. In 1986, Brown was released by Gov. Edwin Edwards, who is currently being tried on federal corruption charges.

The current civil rights lawsuit is filed in the wake of a December uprising at the prison in which an inmate and a guard were killed. The FBI is investigating allegations that Angola guards administered severe beatings to dozens of inmates in the days following the incident, which involved only a handful of prisoners.


For more information on the background of the case, contact Scott Fleming, Angola 3 Support Committee, at (510) 595-8264, email:scott@prisonactivist.org, website: www.prisonactivist.org/angola.

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