We are excited to announce the launching of the www.angola3news.com network of websites. This is an official project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3, working to publicize news and information about political prisoners Robert King, Albert Woodfox, and Herman Wallace. We have created new websites at You Tube, Live Journal, Care2, Twitter, Facebook, and My Space, where we are compiling a variety of media projects about the Angola 3.
Several new art projects and exhibits focusing on the Angola 3 have also been in the news. The New York Times, Newsweek, and others have reported on The House That Herman Built. The new exhibit The Deeper They Bury Me, The Louder My Voice Becomes is currently featured at The New Museum in New York City. The new play titled Angola 3 will premier at Loyola University on September 18. A few days later, Sept. 23-25, Robert King will be touring Maryland, Virginia, and Washington DC with his new autobiography From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of Robert Hillary King.
The Case of the Angola 3
Thirty seven years ago, deep in rural Louisiana, three young black men were silenced for trying to expose continued segregation, systematic corruption, and horrific abuse in the biggest prison in the US, an 18,000-acre former slave plantation called Angola.
Peaceful, non-violent protest in the form of hunger and work strikes organized by inmates, caught the attention of Louisiana’s first black elected legislators and local media in the early 1970s. State legislative leaders, along with the administration of a newly-elected, reform-minded governor, called for investigations into a host of unconstitutional practices and the extraordinarily cruel and unusual treatment commonplace in the prison. In 1972 and 1973 prison officials, determined to put an end to outside scrutiny, charged Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox, and Robert King with murders they did not commit and threw them into 6×9 foot cells in solitary confinement, for over 36 years. Robert was freed in 2001, but Herman and Albert remain behind bars.
In July 2008 a Federal Judge overturned Albert Woodfox’s conviction after a Federal Judicial Magistrate found his trial was unfair due to inadequate representation, prosecutorial misconduct, suppression of exculpatory evidence, and racial discrimination in the grand jury selection process. Sadly, despite this powerful recommendation, Louisiana prosecutors maintain that Albert should remain in Angola for the rest of his life. Attorney General Buddy Caldwell responded by appealing to the US Fifth Circuit. In December, the Fifth Circuit granted Caldwell’s request to deny Woodfox bail, but indicated sympathy for the overturning of the conviction, writing: "We are not now convinced that the State has established a likelihood of success on the merits." On March 3, 2009, oral arguments were heard by appellate Judges Carolyn Dineen King, Carl E. Steart and Leslie H. Southwick, and a decision from them is now expected any month. If the three judge panel affirms the overturning of Woodfox’s conviction, the state will have 120 days to either accept the ruling or to retry Woodfox. The state has already vowed to retry him if necessary. If the Fifth Circuit rules for the state, Woodfox’s conviction will be reinstated.
Similarly, in November 2006, a State Judicial Commissioner took the rare step of issuing a 27-page report recommending the reversal of Herman Wallace’s conviction because of new, compelling evidence exposing prosecutorial misconduct. After stalling for nearly a year, the local District Court issued a curt, two-sentence ruling rejecting the Commissioner’s recommendation. In May 2008 the appellate court continued to ignore justice by refusing to hear the case in a 2-1 decision without any explanation. The one judge who dissented found the verdict should be overturned because Herman’s constitutional rights were violated. The case is currently on appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court and a ruling is expected in coming months. If the appellate court agrees with the Commissioner’s findings and reverses the conviction, and if the District Attorney of Baton Rouge can be convinced not to file new charges, Herman will, at long last, be a free man.
Despite a number of reforms achieved in the mid 70s in response to condemnations of the State of Louisiana’s criminal justice system from all three branches of state government, many court officials have repeatedly refused to take a serious look at these cases, stubbornly sided with local prosecutors despite evidence of misconduct, and ignored constitutional safeguards requiring prison officials to hold meaningful, mandatory 90-day reviews to justify keeping inmates in solitary confinement for any extended period of time. Any month, a federal civil rights lawsuit goes to trial, detailing the decades of unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment endured by these innocent men.
Angola 3 in the News
During the last few years there have been many important stories about the Angola 3, and our new network of websites will be working to publicize these stories.
In March, 2008, NBC Nightly News interviewed Robert King about his time spent in continuous solitary confinement, and also featured an interview with the widow of slain prison guard, who now questions the convictions of Woodfox and Wallace, and told NBC that she supports a new investigation into the case: “What I want is justice. If these two men did not do this, I think they need to be out.”
In October, 2008, a Peabody Award-wining National Public Radio (NPR) series on the case reported directly from Angola. NPR reporter Laura Sullivan observed that “a hundred black men are in the field, bent over picking tomatoes. A single white officer on a horse sits above them, a shotgun in his lap It’s the same as it looked 40 years ago, and 100 years ago.” NPR documents how there is no physical evidence linking Woodfox or Wallace to the murder. A bloody fingerprint was found at the scene but it matches neither prisoner’s prints. Prison officials have always refused to test that fingerprint against their own inmate fingerprint database. Caldwell vows to continue this policy, telling NPR: "A fingerprint can come from anywhere We’re not going to be fooled by that."
In December, 2008, The Huffington Post featured two articles about the Angola 3. One was by James Rucker, whose organization ColorOfChange.org initiated a 25,000 signature petition calling for an investigation into Woodfox and Wallace’s convictions and solitary confinement. Earlier in 2008, the petition was hand-delivered to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s office by the head of the State Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, Cedric Richmond (watch video here).
The second Huffington Post article was written by Ira Glasser, who is the former Executive Director of the ACLU. Glasser criticized the behavior of Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, writing that following the October 2008 announcement that Woodfox’s niece had agreed to take him in if granted bail, Caldwell “embarked upon a public scare campaign reminiscent of the kind of inflammatory hysteria that once was used to provoke lynch mobs. He called Woodfox a violent rapist, even though he had never been charged, let alone convicted, of rape; he sent emails to [Woodfox’s niece’s] neighbors calling Woodfox a convicted murderer and violent rapist; and neighbors were urged to sign petitions opposing his release. In the end, his niece and family were sufficiently frightened and threatened that Woodfox rejected the plan to live with them while on bail.”
In March, 2009, Mother Jones published a long article by James Ridgeway, which was part of an entire Mother Jones series about the Angola 3. Ridgeway writes about Warden Burl Cain’s courtroom testimony advocating continued solitary confinement for Albert Woodfox and opposing his release on bail. Cain testified that even if Woodfox was not guilty of killing Miller, he should still be kept in solitary confinement. "I would still keep him in CCR [solitary confinement]," he said. "I still know that he is still trying to practice Black Pantherism, and I still would not want him walking around my prison because he would organize the young new inmates. I would have me all kind of problems, more than I could stand, and I would have the blacks chasing after them [Woodfox and Wallace] He has to stay in a cell while he is at Angola."
In early May, 2009, Alternet released an article titled The Angola Three: Torture in Our Own Backyard (translated into Spanish here), providing an overview of the case, as well as reviews of the new book From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of Robert Hillary King, and the new DVD The Angola 3: Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation. Later that month, a new interview with Robert King was also featured.
This month, the Why Am I Not Surprised? blog published an essay titled Black August and the Angola 3. One excerpt reads, "I’ve been talking with some VERY bright and VERY committed individuals connected to the campaign to free the last two members of the Angola 3, Albert ‘Shaka’ ‘Cinque’ Woodfox and Herman "Hooks" Wallace, who have now been held in solitary confinement here in Louisiana for more than 37 years — for being Black Panthers. And I’ve begun to have phone conversations with Woodfox himself on a regular basis, as well."
Please Help Spread The Word!
Three court cases are now pending: the federal civil rights lawsuit at the US Middle District Court, Albert Woodfox’s appeal at the US Fifth Circuit, and Herman Wallace’s appeal at the State Supreme Court. At this pivotal time, the National Coalition to Free the Angola 3 needs your help in publicizing our new project at www.angola3news.com.
We are utilizing the resources of the internet to publicize the case of the Angola 3 and the broader issues of prisoners’ human rights, solitary confinement as torture, political repression, racism, and more. Through the www.angola3news.com network of websites, we want to link up with other individuals and groups that are organizing around these same issues.
We need your help to spread the word. Please consider joining the networks we are now building at You Tube, Live Journal, Care2, Twitter, Facebook, and My Space. If you have advice about other websites we should consider networking at, or can help in any other way, please write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.