New Orleans resident Herman J. Wallace, released from a life sentence Tuesday by a federal court order, was reindicted Thursday by a West Feliciana Parish grand jury in the 1972 murder of a prison security officer.
“I say he is a murderer, and he is not innocent,” District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla said. “The conviction was overturned because the federal judge perceived a flaw in the indictment — not his murder conviction.”
D’Aquilla said Wallace attorney Nicholas J. Trenticosta, of New Orleans, was wrong when he said Tuesday that Wallace is “a free man, and he’s innocent.”
Wallace, 71, was taken to a hospice center Tuesday night by his attorneys after his release from Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel. Those attorneys said Wallace has terminal liver cancer.
Wallace was convicted in 1974 in the stabbing murder two years earlier of s ecurity officer Brent Miller, 23, at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. At the time of the murder, Wallace already was serving a 50-year prison term for armed robbery.
Carine M. Williams, a New York attorney for Wallace, said of the new indictment Thursday: “I’m shocked to hear this.”
Williams added: “I don’t see how he (D’Aquilla) could do this (obtain a new indictment) because the state court does not have jurisdiction over this case. They cannot act on this indictment.”
D’Aquilla said he will proceed with the state’s case, but will not immediately seek Wallace’s return to prison.
“We will set a court date by the end of the year for him to appear and answer the charges,” D’Aquilla said.
The one-page indictment alleges that Wallace “committed murder upon the person of Brent Miller” on April 17, 1972.
On Tuesday, Chief U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson, of Baton Rouge, ordered Wallace’s immediate release. Jackson said women were unconstitutionally excluded from the West Feliciana Parish grand jury that indicted Wallace in 1973.
D’Aquilla said Thursday that six women and four men were on the grand jury that returned the latest indictment. The district attorney added that a woman served as the panel’s foreman .
Jackson noted in his ruling Tuesday that the Louisiana Constitution and some state laws exempted women from service on grand juries unless they filed a written notice that they wished to serve.
Exemptions that have the effect of excluding people by gender or race from grand jury service violate the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees for equal protection under the law, Jackson added.
“There is no dispute that up to and including the grand jury that indicted Mr. Wallace on Sept. 14, 1973, no woman had ever served as a grand juror in West Feliciana Parish,” the judge added.
In a separate trial, Albert Woodfox also was convicted in the murder of Brent Miller and sentenced to life in prison. The 68-year-old Woodfox, who also was serving a 50-year prison term for armed robbery at the time of Miller’s murder, remains incarcerated at David Wade Correctional Center near Homer in Claiborne Parish.
Until Wallace’s release Tuesday, both men had served more than 40 years under lockdown — meaning they were allowed out of their cells only one hour per day. During that one hour outside the cell, such inmates remain isolated from the general prison population.
Baton Rouge resident Hardy Miller, Brent Miller’s younger brother, said Thursday he was grateful for the new indictment in West Feliciana Parish against Wallace.
“I’m glad they did this,” Miller, 62, said of D’Aquilla and the West Feliciana Parish grand jury.
“They were found guilty, and they are guilty,” Miller said of Wallace and Woodfox. “They need to serve their time.”
Added Miller: “Brent was just such a great guy, I always looked up to him. This should never have happened to him. It shouldn’t happen to anybody.”