Judge reverses conviction

State Attorney General Buddy Caldwell said Wednesday his office will appeal a federal judge’s decision to reverse Albert Woodfox’s 1998 conviction in the 1972 stabbing death of a guard at the Louisiana State Penitentiary.

U.S. District Judge James Brady agreed Tuesday with Woodfox’s claim that his 1993 indictment by a West Feliciana Parish grand jury was tainted by discrimination in the grand jury foreperson selection process.

Brady noted in his ruling that only five of the 27 grand jury forepersons judicially selected in West Feliciana Parish between 1980 and March 1993 were black; the other 22 were white. The judge said the state failed to convince him that “objective, race-neutral criteria” — such as education and employment — were used in the selection process.

Grand jury forepersons in Louisiana are now randomly selected, East Baton Rouge Parish First Assistant District Attorney Prem Burns said.

Woodfox, of New Orleans, a former member of the Black Panther Party, has been convicted twice of fatally stabbing Brent Miller, a 23-year-old guard, at the Angola prison.

“We are preparing our appeal now, and we are confident that the grand jury forepersons were appropriately picked and that the state will prevail and give this family peace after 40 years of dealing with this career criminal,” Caldwell said in a prepared statement.

Woodfox’s attorney, Nick Trenticosta, said he is confident the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will uphold Brady’s ruling.

“We’re extremely pleased with the judge’s ruling. We’re not surprised,” Trenticosta said via telephone. “We look forward to a new trial and to Mr. Woodfox being exonerated.”

Woodfox’s first conviction in Miller’s death was overturned after he challenged the grand jury indictment.

Brady ruled in 2008 that Woodfox’s defense counsel in his retrial was ineffective. The judge ordered the state to try Woodfox for a third time or drop the case.

The 5th U.S. Circuit in 2010 reversed that order, saying Brady erred in concluding