Inside Report: La. inmates attract world attention

Appeals by Albert Woodfox, 65, and Herman Joshua Wallace, 71, of their 1973 convictions and life sentences for the murder a year earlier of 23-year-old security officer Brent Miller at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola have attracted supporters for years.

Among those supporters is Amnesty International, a human rights group that was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 for its worldwide efforts aimed at exposing and ending government-sanctioned torture.

The group’s United States website — http://www.amnestyusa.org/emails/W1204EAIAR1.html — includes a plea that supporters sign a petition requesting Gov. Bobby Jindal to take action to end what Amnesty International said is 14,600 days that Woodfox and Wallace have endured in “cruel and unnecessary solitary confinement.”

The petition is to be delivered to Jindal on April 17, according to the group’s website.

The allegation that Woodfox and Wallace are in solitary confinement, along with a request that they be released from prison, ignited an open-letter response from Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell.

“Thank you for your interest in the ambush, savage attack and brutal murder of Officer Brent Miller at Louisiana State Penitentiary … on April 17, 1972,” Caldwell wrote. “Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace committed this murder, stabbing and slicing Miller over 35 times.”

The attorney general also noted in his March 21 letter that neither Wallace nor Woodfox has been confined at Angola for years. He said Wallace was transferred to Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel, Iberville Parish, on March 19, 2009. Caldwell said Woodfox was transferred to David Wade Correctional Center near Homer, Claiborne Parish, on Nov. 1, 2010.

“Contrary to popular lore,” Caldwell wrote, “Woodfox and Wallace have never been held in solitary confinement while in the Louisiana penal system.”

Added Caldwell: “They have always been able to communicate freely with other inmates and prison staff as frequently as they want. They have televisions on the tiers, which they watch through their cell doors. In their cells, they can have radios and headsets, reading and writing materials, stamps, newspapers, magazines and books.”

Caldwell continued: “These convicted murderers have an hour outside of their cells each day where they can exercise in the hall, talk on the phone, shower and visit with the other 10 to 14 inmates on the tier. At least three times per week, they can go outside on the yard and exercise and enjoy the sun if they want.”

Supporters of Woodfox also have argued that he should be released from prison because U.S. District Judge James J. Brady ruled Feb. 26 that Woodfox must be tried a third time for Miller’s murder. Brady concluded that the selection of a white foreman for the 1993 West Feliciana Parish grand jury was not free from racial discrimination. That grand jury’s indictment led to Woodfox’s second jury conviction five years later.

Wallace has an appeal pending before Chief U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson.

If necessary, Caldwell wrote, both inmates will be prosecuted again.

“No court has ever ruled that these inmates are innocent of the murder of Officer Miller,” Caldwell wrote. “There are no flaws in our evidence, and this case is very strong.”

Bill Lodge covers federal courts for The
Advocate. He can be reached at blodge@theadvocate.com.