Solitary Confinement: Dying Inmate, 71, Freed Four Decades Later

    October 2, 2013

After spending 41 years in solitary confinement for a murder he says he didn’t commit, Herman Wallace was freed on Tuesday. To add insult to injury, the 71-year-old Louisiana man has lung cancer and isn’t expected to live for more than a couple of months.

Wallace is part of the Angola Three, a group of black men that are said to be victims of racial discrimination. The three men were placed in solitary confinement after being accused of murdering a white prison guard at Louisiana State Penitentiary, also called Angola Prison.

Wallace and two other men–Robert Hillary King and Albert Woodfox–were sent to Angola Prison after being convicted of armed robbery in 1971. The next year, Wallace and Woodfox were accused of stabbing prison guard Brent Miller to death, and all three men were placed in solitary confinement. The men were only allowed out of their small cells for one hour per day to shower or exercise.

The three men were reportedly part of a Black Panther group in Angola at the time of Miller’s murder. Even though no fingerprints were found on the knife used to kill Miller, the two men were found guilty, which many believe was race-related. The Angola Three was the subject of the documentary In the Land of the Free, which was narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. Amnesty International had the Angola Three on their list of political prisoners.

U.S. District Chief Judge Brian Jackson in Baton Rouge overturned Wallace’s murder conviction, saying that Wallace’s rights were violated because women were excluded from the jury.

“The record in this case makes clear that Mr. Wallace’s grand jury was improperly chosen in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of ‘the equal protection of the laws’…and that the Louisiana courts, when presented with the opportunity to correct this error, failed to do so,” Jackson wrote in his ruling.

Louisiana could start another case against Wallace, but that is unlikely since he doesn’t have long to live. “Nothing can be done for me medically within the standard care that (my oncologists) are authorized to provide,” Wallace said in a statement last month. “They recommended that I be admitted to hospice care to make my remaining days as comfortable as possible. I have been given two months to live.

Wallace still maintains his innocence regarding Miller’s death. “I want the world to know that I am an innocent man and that Albert Woodfox is innocent as well,” he said. “The state may have stolen my life, but my spirit will continue to struggle along with Albert and the many comrades that have joined us along the way here in the belly of the beast.”

Image via YouTube