Judge grants freedom to ‘Angola 3’ inmate after 40 years in solitary confinement

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(CNN) — Herman Wallace, a terminally ill former Black Panther and one of the “Angola 3,” must be released after serving more than 40 years in solitary confinement, a federal judge in Louisiana ruled Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson in Baton Rouge said that women were systematically excluded from the grand jury that indicted Wallace in the 1972 slaying of a prison guard in Angola, Louisiana. The judge vacated the conviction and sentence.

Jackson declined to address Wallace’s other claims, including an allegation that the state knowingly used false testimony and withheld exculpatory evidence at trial.

Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore said his office filed an appeal with the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, asking that Wallace not be immediately released, as ordered.

The judge ruled that prosecutors have 30 days to notify Wallace, 71, whether they intend to seek a new indictment in the case.

Wallace’s legal team lauded the judge’s decision.

“With today’s ruling, at long last, Herman Wallace has been afforded some measure of justice after a lifetime of injustice. We ask that the Department of Corrections honor Judge Jackson’s order and immediately release Herman Wallace so that he can spend his final days as a free man,” they said in a statement.

According to his lawyers, Wallace — after losing between 40 and 50 pounds — was found this summer to have terminal liver cancer.

Albert Woodfox and Wallace were convicted in the 1972 killing of Angola guard Brent Miller; a third inmate, Robert King, or Robert K. Wilkerson, also protested prison conditions.

Together, they were known as the “Angola 3.” They claimed they were targeted because of their activism as Black Panthers.

Wallace was serving an armed robbery sentence at the time of Miller’s death.

“Mr. Wallace has fought his unconstitutional conviction for decades and is supported by four alibi witnesses who place him in another part of the prison when the tragic murder occurred,” his lawyers said Tuesday.

“The extreme duration of solitary confinement in the case of three men, including Mr. Wallace, has drawn international condemnation of the treatment of the ‘Angola 3,’ ” they said.

King was transferred to Angola just weeks after the guard was killed. Even so, he was investigated as a possible “conspirator” and put into solitary confinement alongside Wallace and Woodfox, according to the documentary “In the Land of the Free.” He was never convicted in connection with Miller’s death.

King was convicted in 1973 of killing a fellow inmate. His conviction was overturned in 2001, and he was freed.

Amnesty International called on Gov. Bobby Jindal to “release Herman so that his family can care for him during his last months.”

Wallace and Woodfox “endured very restrictive conditions, including periods of 23-hour cell confinement,” according to Amnesty.

By Joe Sutton and Phil Gast

CNN’s Chelsea J. Carter contributed to this report.

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