The cancer death last week of Herman J. Wallace, who spent nearly 42 years under prison lockdown for the 1972 murder of a security officer at Angola, did not end courtroom wars over Wallace’s rights or those of co-defendant Albert Woodfox.
Woodfox, 68, continues to seek a third trial after twice being convicted of the murder of security officer Brent Miller, 23. That litigation remains pending at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
Miller was white. Wallace and Woodfox are black.
Both inmates maintained for decades they were targeted for prosecution because they were members of the Black Panthers. They denied participation in the murder.
Friend-of-the-court briefs in favor of a new trial for Woodfox have been filed in the pending appellate case by retired Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Pascal F. Calogero Jr., the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, of New York and a New Orleans nonprofit, The Promise of Justice Initiative.
Calogero and the New Orleans nonprofit told the 5th Circuit this summer that a decision by U.S. District Judge James J. Brady to order a new trial in Woodfox’s case should be affirmed.
Brady rejected Woodfox’s decades-old indictment because he found the West Feliciana Parish judge who picked grand jury foremen seemed to favor appointment of white people for that role.
Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell asked the 5th Circuit to reverse the decision.
“The NAACP and the Promise of Justice claim that West Feliciana has a long history of racial discrimination, but neither of their briefs make any connection between that history … and any (indication) that (the judge) was prejudiced in selecting a white woman foreperson in 1993,” Caldwell wrote.
“All members of Woodfox’s grand jury except the foreperson were selected randomly, and five blacks sat on that grand jury,” Caldwell added.
A spokeswoman for Caldwell’s office said Monday that no comments would be issued outside the court filings.
Calogero, who serves on the nonprofit’s board of directors, said in his filing that grand jury foremen can exert influence over other grand jurors.
“The problem of race discrimination in the selection of grand jury forepersons in Louisiana was endemic and lasted for over a century,” Calogero wrote.
Added Calogero: “Although this state has come a long way in eradicating racial discrimination throughout the grand jury foreperson selection process, we must not turn our back on those whose convictions were tainted by the old system.”
Wallace, 71, died of liver cancer three days after Chief U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson, of Baton Rouge, ordered him released from a St. Gabriel prison. The judge threw out Wallace’s murder conviction because women were unconstitutionally excluded from the West Feliciana Parish grand jury that returned a 1973 murder indictment against him.
Wallace’s death did not end a separate civil suit he, Woodfox, and former Angola inmate Robert King Wilkerson, 69, filed against the state more than 10 years ago about their decades of solitary confinement.
Wilkerson, who now goes by the name of Robert King, was not charged in connection with Miller’s stabbing murder.
Instead, he was convicted of murdering another inmate in an unrelated case.
After prosecution witnesses recanted their testimony against him, King pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and was released immediately from Angola in 2001 after serving 29 years under lockdown.
Lockdown means that a prisoner remains alone in his cell 23 hours per day, and is not allowed to mingle with the general prison population during the hour permitted outside his cell, explained an attorney for the men, known as the Angola Three.
That New York attorney, George H. Kendall, declined to discuss the case Monday.
But Kendall noted last week: “Since 2001, he (King) has not gotten a parking ticket.”
In the civil suit over lockdown, Woodfox also seeks an end to strip searching and body cavity inspections he contends he endures as many as six times a day.
Any time guards remove him from his cell, he is searched. When he is returned to the cell, he is searched.
Woodfox argues those searches are not necessary for a prisoner who never leaves his cell without being chained at his hands, waist and feet.