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Americas

Black Panther leaves US jail after 41 years in solitary

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-10-02

Terminally ill former Black Panther, Herman Wallace, who spent 41 years in solitary confinement for murder, was set free Tuesday after a Louisiana judge reversed his controversial 1974 conviction.

A 71-year-old former Black Panther who spent 41 years in solitary confinement and is now dying of cancer was released late Tuesday from a Louisiana prison, his lawyers said.

US District Chief Judge Brian Jackson in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, denied the state’s motion seeking to block his earlier order overturning Herman Wallace’s 1974 murder conviction over the death of Angola jail prison guard Brent Miller.

Jackson also ordered a new trial because women were unconstitutionally excluded from the grand jury that indicted Wallace in the guard’s death.

Wallace and two other inmates who were convicted of the 23-year-old guard’s murder became known as the “Angola 3”.

Wallace, from New Orleans, was serving a 50-year armed robbery sentence when Miller was fatally stabbed in 1972. Wallace and the two other prisoners were subsequently moved to isolation at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.

Wallace was recently moved to the prison’s hospital unit.

‘Cruel, inhuman and degrading’

Amnesty International USA last year delivered a petition to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s office, containing 65,000 signatures from people around the world who called the men’s solitary confinement inhuman and degrading.

The group’s executive director, Steven W. Hawkins, welcomed the court’s ruling involving Wallace. “Tragically, this step toward justice has come as Herman is dying from cancer with only days or hours left to live,” he said in a statement. “No ruling can erase the cruel, inhuman and degrading prison conditions he endured for more than 41 years.”

Wallace’s attorneys said the freed prisoner left a correctional centre in St. Gabriel by ambulance on Tuesday evening and was expected to go to LSU Interim Hospital in New Orleans for treatment of advanced terminal liver cancer.

George Kendall, one of Wallace’s lawyers, told The Associated Press in an earlier telephone interview the decision gave his client “some measure of justice after a lifetime of injustice.”

“He’s pleased,” Kendall said of Wallace’s reaction after hearing of Tuesday’s ruling, “but he’s quite ill.”

‘Unconstitutional solitary confinement’

Kendall said his client has asked that, after his demise, they continue to press the lawsuit challenging Wallace’s “unconstitutional solitary confinement for four decades.”

“It is Mr. Wallace’s hope that this litigation will help ensure that others, including his lifelong friend and fellow ‘Angola 3’ member, Albert Woodfox, do not continue to suffer such cruel and unusual confinement even after Mr. Wallace is gone.”

Woodfox and Wallace consistently denied involvement in Miller’s killing and say they were targeted because they helped establish a prison chapter of the Black Panther Party at the Angola prison in 1971, set up demonstrations and organised strikes for better conditions in the prison.

The third man, Robert King, was released after 29 years in solitary confinement. King, convicted of killing a fellow inmate in 1973, was released in 2001 after his conviction was reversed and he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of conspiracy to commit murder.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-10-02

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