Brother of slain guard said freed inmate should still be in prison cell

A Baton Rouge federal judge should never have released one of the two men convicted of killing Louisiana penitentiary security officer Brent Miller in 1972, a younger brother of the slain guard said Wednesday.

Chief U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson ordered the release of Herman Joshua Wallace, 71, after ruling that the unconstitutional exclusion of women from a West Feliciana Parish grand jury invalidated Wallace’s 1973 indictment.

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III is asking the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to return Wallace to prison.

“They should never have released him,” Baton Rouge resident Hardy Miller, 62, said of Wallace. “Brent didn’t have another trial. He just got jumped by a bunch of men who killed him.”

Added Hardy Miller: “Brent, he didn’t have a chance to grow up or have kids or nothing.”

Another longtime inmate, Albert Woodfox, 68, also was convicted of Brent Miller’s murder and remains in prison at David Wade Correctional Center near Homer in Claiborne Parish.

Both Woodfox and Wallace were serving 50-year prison terms for armed robbery when Brent Miller was stabbed to death.

“I think they should just keep them locked up,” Hardy Miller said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

Wallace has terminal liver cancer and is bedridden at a hospice center, his attorneys said Tuesday.

Brent Miller, 23, had gotten married a few months before his murder, his younger brother recalled. Shortly before his death, Hardy Miller added, Brent Miller said he planned to leave his prison job.

“His life had been threatened,” Hardy Miller said. “He didn’t say who did that. He was fixing to quit Angola. It really wasn’t for him.”

Life as a security officer was not the same as life as a child housed on the prison grounds, Miller noted. Because their father worked at Angola, their family had a home on the prison grounds.

Miller recalled that he and his older brother grew to trust inmates who worked at a prison store and barber shop where they received hair cuts. He said that was true of all inmate trusties they encountered.

“Inmates would cut your grass,” Miller marveled. “You trusted them. They bagged your groceries.”

Miller added that no one should read racial prejudice into the crime that ripped his older brother from his life.

“This is just a tragedy that happened in a prison with some black inmates,” Miller said.

Woodfox is black, as is Wallace, whose conviction has been erased.

“I just know that the ones who did this to Brent were really bad inmates,” Miller said. “They should not have been allowed near the area where Brent was.”

After his brother’s death, Miller said, other security officers said the men who committed the murder had just been released from lockdown. A lockdown keeps an inmate in his cell for 23 hours of each day and isolated from the general prison population during the one hour outside the cell.

Miller said those security officers tried but failed to have the prison official who released the inmates from lockdown fired.

Some of those security officers did more than try to have a deputy warden fired after Miller’s murder, said George H. Kendall, one of Wallace’s attorneys.

Kendall said Wednesday racial tension had surfaced at Angola and that Wallace and Woodfox were closely watched because of their affiliation with the Black Panthers, considered a militant group at the time.

Some of those security officers threw the deputy warden through a glass window and left him prostrate and bleeding until an ambulance arrived to rush the man to surgery, Kendall said.

Of Brent Miller’s death, Kendall said: “It’s horrible for him. It’s horrible for the victim’s family. It’s horrible for Mr. Wallace, who didn’t get a fair trial.”

Wallace and Woodfox, along with Robert King Wilkerson, became known as the Angola Three after Miller’s murder.

Wallace spent nearly 42 years in lockdown before his release. Woodfox remains in lockdown.

Wilkerson, now known as Robert King, was not at Angola when Miller was killed. He arrived later as a result of a conviction for murder of another inmate.

King, now 69, was released in 2001 after prosecution witnesses recanted their trial testimony against him, By that time, King had spent approximately 29 years in lockdown.

Kendall is one of the attorneys who now represent all three former Angola inmates in civil suits against the state for those decades under lockdown.

While the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office declined to discuss any of that litigation Wednesday, Kendall said Wallace’s release is not expected to result in the release of waves of other inmates whose grand juries did not include women.

If those inmates’ attorneys did not argue that such grand jury indictments were unconstitutional prior to or during their trials, Kendall said, that opportunity is “long gone.”